Boy with Down’s Syndrome learnt to walk thanks to ballet classes

Mother of a six-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome who learned to walk by going to BALLET lessons reveals he now attends mainstream school, sings in the choir and is confidently making friends thanks to dancing

  • Archie Aspin has Down’s Syndrome and learnt how to walk through ballet classes
  • He won the nation’s hearts when his story made headlines three years ago
  • Archie, 6, has gone from strength to strength and is now in a mainstream school
  • Mother Amanda reveals the weekly dance lessons has taught him skills for life 
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Hands on his hips and smiling cheekily, Archie Aspin is photographed taking his place at the front of his weekly ballet class.

Without any instruction from his teacher, Claire O’Connor, the confident dancer soon gallops across the room, leading first with one foot, and then with the other.

Mrs O’Connor, 41, a former ballerina, explained such co-ordination would be impressive for any six-year-old. But it is especially remarkable for Archie.

In 2015 Archie, who was born with Down’s Syndrome, won the nation’s hearts when it was revealed how he had learnt to walk, skip and jump thanks to weekly ‘baby ballet’ lessons near his home outside Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Now, in an exclusive interview with FEMAIL, his mother Amanda, 41, told how her son has continued to go from strength to strength and is attending mainstream school where he sings in the choir and is confidently making friends.  

And his mother believes his progress is thanks to the skills he’s picked up in the dance studio. 

‘He’s not been frightened to go up and speak to people, to go up and make friends in the playground,’ Mrs Aspin said. ‘[That’s] because he’s learnt how to initiate conversation by doing it in a dance class with a group.’


Star of the show: Archie Aspin, six, at his weekly babyballet class in Halifax, West Yorkshire


Best foot forward: The schoolboy has learnt skills through ballet that equip him for life


Family: Archie with parents Amanda, 42, and Michael, 40, and sisters Emily, 11, and Tillie, eight

She also believes that the social skills he’s picked up in the dance studio will equip him for an independent life in the future.

‘It’s fantastic progress,’ she said. ‘It’s amazing. It’s not just the physical, being able to jump, to try to skip and to hop, it’s the social side of it too. 

‘He’s with normal ability peers and he’s accepted in by his friends. They play together before the class, they play together after the class… It’s giving him skills for life.’ 

‘Our whole aim is to make him as independent as possible so he’s not relying on other people to look after him. 


Centre stage: Adorable Archie beams as he takes his position at the front of the dance class 


Lasting impact: Archie with teacher Claire O’Connor, 44, who co-founded babyballet in 2009


Cheeky smile: The schoolboy poses with his hands on his hips as he grins at Mrs O’Connor

‘Eventually we’re not going to be around and we don’t want his sisters [Emily, 11, and Tillie, eight] to be his carers, we want his sisters to be his sisters. We want him to live independently.

‘It takes children with Down’s Syndrome a lot longer to learn these things so the earlier we can teach them to be confident and independent, [the better] that’s setting him up for the life.’ 

When Archie was born, Mrs Aspin and her husband Michael, 40, were warned their son would develop more slowly than his peers and might never keep up. 

What is babyballet and how can it help children? 

Claire O’Connor, co-founded the babyballet studio with her mother, a former dance school owner, in 1999. The company now teaches 25,000 children across the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Mrs O’Connor danced at her mother’s school into her teenage years but decided to quit aged 14 after she began to feel like she wasn’t talented enough or ‘quite the right shape’.

She said: ‘Your body image can be affected by things like that, but I probably didn’t realise at the time. I was at my Mum’s school, it was a family school, but it was more what was in my head.

‘I thought you had to be a certain body size, you had to be a certain standard, rather it just being the joy of dance and a hobby. So when I set up babyballet it was to give all children an opportunity to dance, no matter what size, shape, or anything.’

Mrs O’Connor, a mother of four, explained how the Aspins decision to share their story publicly had given others the confidence to come forward and sign their children up for dance.

She said: ‘It really helped give parents of children with Down’s Syndrome to think: “Oh well, if Archie can do it then I’m going to take my child to try it”. We definitely had a rise in our classes with parents who had thought they wouldn’t be allowed to come.

‘For me, the door is open and we’ll work with every parent, as much as we can. With dance, the movement and the expression, it doesn’t have to be just your legs. It’s your whole body and you’re whole being.

‘We’ve had children in wheelchairs come before and they’ve danced with lots and lots of arm movements. We’ve worked with their parents to give them the best experience possible.’ 

Children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome often struggle with motor skills, their confidence levels and interacting socially. Speech and language development can also be delayed.

But the Aspins were determined to treat Archie as they would their other children and offer him the same opportunities – including dance lessons. 

‘Archie came to his sister’s class when he was about two weeks old,’ Mrs Aspin recalled. ‘We saw how much of a benefit [it] was to his sisters – the physical benefits and also the social benefits – and it was a no-brainer that he would join in the classes too. We could see what it would give him.


Special bond: Archie with older sisters Emily, 11, and Tillie, eight, who also dance


Focused: Archie listens to instructions from the teacher during the ballet lesson


Next steps: Archie’s parents and teachers work together to build his confidence and skills


Important lessons: The class has also helped Archie grow confident in making friends 

‘The teachers just accepted him. They said: “Right, you tell us if there’s anything we need to alter, if there’s anything we need to adapt for him”. 

‘When he started the classes he couldn’t walk, so when they were walking around in a circle, I would hold him and walk around in a circle. We worked with the teachers on a weekly basis.’

The physical benefits of the lessons soon started to show.  

‘They [the doctors] said that he wouldn’t be able to walk until he was three, going on four,’ Mrs Aspin explained. 

‘He was just two and a couple of months when he learnt to walk so that was really good. And the fact that he didn’t just walk, he tried to jump and tried to hop and tried to skip. It was like. “Well he’s walking now, what can he do next?”‘ 

WHAT IS DOWN’S SYNDROME?

Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition that typically causes some degree of learning disability and certain physical characteristics.

Symptoms include:

  • Floppiness at birth
  • Eyes that slant down and out
  • A small mouth
  • A flat back of head

Screening tests can uncover Down’s syndrome during pregnancy but are not completely accurate.

It is caused by an extra chromosome in a baby’s cell due to a genetic change in the sperm or egg.

The risk increases according to the age of the mother.

A 20-year-old woman has around a one in 1,500 chance of having a baby with Down’s syndrome.

Women in their 40s have a one in 100 chance.

There is no evidence women can reduce their risk.

Down’s syndrome does not have a cure.

Treatment focuses on supporting the patient’s development. 

Down’s syndrome sufferers are more at risk of health complications such as heart disorders, hearing problems, thyroid issues and recurrent infections. 

Source: NHS Choices 

Archie has since added a tap dance lesson to his weekly ballet class and is in primary one at Old Earth Primary School, a mainstream school in Elland, West Yorkshire, where he is using the inter-personal skills he has developed at ballet to make friends.

The mother-of-three, who runs her own children’s day nursery, added that she believed the other children in Archie’s dance class also benefits.

‘He’s never singled out and everybody in the class celebrates it as well. It’s not, “Archie can’t quite do this yet”. It’s “oh, Archie can do this”.

‘I think it’s really important for children of that age to be exposed to people with differing needs because then it becomes the norm. No one asks why Archie is different or what’s wrong with Archie, they just accept that it’s just Archie.’

 

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