Autistic sufferer Toby Henderson has moved into his own home - a milestone his mother never thought he’d see.
When Toby was diagnosed with the condition at the age of five he changed overnight - going from an outgoing little boy into an introverted child in a world full of fear and confusion.
But now, after living with his mother Lesley for the past 20 years, he has finally flown the nest and moved into his own home.
And Lesley, who set up the Toby Henderson Trust in his name, which is a nationally recognised resource for families and professionals touched by autism, told the Journal that part of her was “amputated” the day he moved.
The mother-of-four said: “If we look back to the day he was five nobody would have ever believed he could have done this and achieved so much.
“He is 20-years-old and he has grown into a big handsome man. He is living independently with fantastic carers who treat him as an individual.”
Toby recently moved into his new home in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, with his pal but the pair rely on round-the-clock carers to help with their daily routines.
“I was a physical wreck the day he moved out,” said Lesley, of Widdrington, Northumberland. “When he was five somebody put a word to his condition - autistic. I felt like his future was amputated and that we had nothing to look forward to. Growing up he would never have a job or a girlfriend.
“On the day I saw him walk away a part of me felt like it was being amputated. I had cared for him. I had been on my own with him for nine years and cared for him for 20 years.
“To physically hand him over was very difficult and I struggled to find the words. I felt as though some part of me had been cut away.
“Toby doesn’t understand emotions. As I was crying he was walking away with his bag not looking bothered.
“I can’t go and visit him yet until he’s bedded, which is heartbreaking but I know he’s fine.”
The Journal has followed Toby’s story since he was a young child and as he approached his teenager years he refused to go to school, often lashing out at his mother in violent attacks of frustration.
But as he got older Lesley saw an improvement and in 2013 he was able to complete the Great North Run for the charity.
And his proud mother said his smile can light up a room.
She said: “When he smiles that smile could stop a war. It doesn’t come to him easily but when it does it’s just wow.”
Since launching in 2001, the Toby Henderson Trust has provided help and support for hundreds of families of children and young people with autism from its base at The Old Barn at Whitehouse Farm near Morpeth, Northumberland.
The charity provides advice on everything from filling in Disability Living Allowance forms to speech and language therapy and hair-cutting techniques.
And soon the charity will move into new premises in Hareside Primary School in Cramlington, which will be named Toby’s House.
Lesley said: “We are hoping to extend the charity and the double the number of kids we work with.”