When autistic 11-year-old Ben Twist sat his end-of-year exams, he had no idea what was in store for him. After a nervous wait, Ben and his parents received his results, but something unexpected also happened. The letter that was sent to them, which included his marks, left his mom in tears.
Autism is a lifelong condition that influences people’s behavior. It can have an impact on the sufferer in a variety of ways including the communication skills that a person has and the way they interpret the events and interactions around them. It’s also a syndrome that cannot be cured.
The disability is described as a “spectrum condition.” This means that those who have autism do not all suffer from the same problems and instead experience a range of issues relating to the condition. Therefore, they require varying methods of support in order to manage their syndrome effectively. Autistic people do share common traits, though.
Those with autism often have problems with communication in a group environment and interpret conversations as literal, failing to fully understand facial expressions or the way in which someone may say a certain word or phrase. Navigating social interactions, in particular, can be tough.
Gail Twist and her son Ben live in Manchester, England. Ben was diagnosed with autism when he was five and lives with his mom and his two siblings, Ava, seven, and Joseph, 13. Not only does Ben have autism, but he also suffers from epilepsy, which sometimes leads him to have fits.
Ben attends Lansbury Bridge School & Sports College, which caters for children aged three to 16 who have specialist needs. Each child has an individual Education, Health and Care Plan that explains the support that pupil will receive to help them realize their goals.
Children with specialist needs can often find school problematic in comparison to their fellow classmates. In some cases, they might struggle to mix with the other students or teachers, and they might also find it hard to keep up with the rest of the class.
Ben had spent the early years of his life in a mainstream school. But his parents made the decision to move him to Lansbury Bridge when they saw that he was falling behind the other students. The previous school was unable to offer the attention Ben required.
Thankfully, Ben’s parents made the right decision. Indeed, once he started attending the specialist school, Ben went from strength to strength. Prior to attending Lansbury Bridge, the 11-year-old had often felt very anxious in the mornings. Now, though, he was no longer worried about school.
Ben’s new school prides itself on providing a calming educational environment. The welcome message from principal Warren Brooks on the school’s website states, “We set aspirational targets and have high expectations of what pupils can achieve, both in their learning and through their involvement in wider school life and the community.
“Similarly, our pupils have high expectations of us! It is only by working together as parents, staff, pupils, governors and a local authority that we can ensure our youngsters are afforded the best opportunities whilst at Lansbury Bridge,” Brooks’ statement continues.
Ben joined Lansbury Bridge at the beginning of term in September 2015. And in May of the following year, the time came for SATs to be taken. These national exams are sat by British children at two different stages in primary school.
In the U.K., children sit one set of SATs at the age of seven. When they’re 11, which was Ben’s age at the time, they take another round of the tests. These exams are intended to provide a marker of how each child is doing.
In 2016 when the time came for Lansbury Bridge to put forward pupils for the second set of SATs, they decided to select just one child. The pupil in question was Ben, and he would go on to sit every end-of-year exam that he was asked to.
Unsurprisingly, Ben’s mom Gail was extremely pleased that her son had been picked for the tests in the first place. Speaking to the Daily Mirror in 2016, she said, “I was so proud to be told that Ben was going to be able to take his SATs, because not many children at the school do.”
Gail also felt strongly that the effort Ben put into the tests was more important than his results. “I wasn’t expecting him to pass, and he didn’t,” She said. “But I was so proud of him, and he was proud of himself for trying, and that’s a massive achievement for him.”
Although Ben didn’t pass the exams, the fact that he was able to sit them at all is quite an achievement in itself. Such tests can be stressful for the majority of children but are especially taxing for kids with autism or learning difficulties of some other kind.
Once Ben had completed the exams, all he then had to do was wait for the results to be sent to him. However, he couldn’t have expected his mom to end up in tears when he received the letter home to inform him and his parents about how he’d performed.
When Ben was sent his results, he in fact received two letters instead of one. The first was for his mom and dad, while the second was for Ben himself. This came as a complete surprise to both Ben and his parents.
The first letter contained Ben’s results, and in the second was a beautiful message for the boy. “The letter came as a complete surprise. It was just so wonderful and the most beautiful letter I’ve ever read,” Gail explained.
Gail continued to explain how much her son appreciated the letter. “The fact that they’d addressed it to Ben was just so lovely, too,” she said. “He was so surprised and said how ‘awesome’ it was and couldn’t believe they really thought that about him.”
The second letter was sent by the vice principal, Ruth Clarkson, and was sweetly addressed to Ben rather than his parents. The message inside acknowledged Ben’s hard work and the effort he makes at school. It also urged him not to worry about his results.
Making sure children aren’t disheartened by poor test results is important, as otherwise the marks could discourage them from trying their hardest in the future. All pupils have different strengths and weaknesses, of course, and Clarkson reminded Ben of that in the letter.
Ben’s mom was so touched by Clarkson’s letter, in fact, that she decided to share a picture of it on her Twitter page. And judging by the reaction to Gail’s post, it’s clear that a lot of parents were also impressed by the vice principal’s words.
Gail posted the tweet on July 9, 2016, and it soon went viral. Since then, it has received in excess of 5,000 retweets as well as 12,000 likes. So, the heartwarming message conveyed in the letter was certainly a hit on social media.
In the letter, Clarkson reminded Ben about of all his talents that weren’t measured by the SATs. These included his artistic gifts, his performances in sports and his growing independence, all of which are undoubtedly great attributes for a young boy.
Clarkson’s letter noted, “I want you to understand that these tests only measure a little bit of you and your abilities. They are important and you have done so well, but Ben Twist is made up from many other skills and talents that we at Lansbury Bridge see and measure in other ways.”
One of the reasons for Ben’s parents taking him out of his previous school was that he would often worry or become upset in the mornings before school. But in contrast, since he enrolled at Lansbury Bridge, he looks forward to heading to lessons.
Ben has even now has a best pal at Lansbury Bridge, and his developing social and communication skills have not gone unnoticed. In the letter, Clarkson applauded Ben’s ability to “make and keep friends” and the way in which he can “work in a team.”
Gail was especially pleased to see that her son’s teachers are aware of Ben’s many non-academic gifts. “He’s such a sensitive and loving child, and he’s got an amazing sense of humor,” she said. “It’s amazing that the school are able to recognize that our children have other qualities than what they are tested on.”
Not every pupil excels academically or is comfortable taking exams, though, and Gail thinks that children should have the opportunity to be tested in other ways. She believes that Clarkson’s letter is an excellent example of how you can build a child’s confidence by complimenting them on a range of qualities.
“Ben’s made me so proud, and I thought it was really important to share something this nice with other people,” Gail added. “I think more schools should recognize the arts and music alongside math and English.
“There’s definitely more to a child than just answering exam questions, and these qualities should be recognized more. Since sharing it, I’ve had an amazing response. The internet can be such a cruel place, so it’s great to know that this has made someone’s day,” Gail continued.
Moreover, Clarkson’s touching letter isn’t the first time that the vice principal has reminded a child of their individual talents. Clarkson sent a letter to another student a year earlier that contained a similar message, in fact. But in both cases she made sure to include personalized points specific to the pupil in question.
Parents were quick to praise the letter on social media, and many expressed their wish for all teachers act in a similar fashion. The post was also picked up by news outlets, and according to one tweet the letter has even been used in a test in China.
Ben’s school’s principal at the time, Jane Grecic, spoke to the Daily Mirror about how much she values pupils’ effort and individuality. She said, “As a special school, we usually only have a very small number of pupils who are able to take their SATs.
“Ben was our only entry this year, and on the run up to the tests he worked extremely hard, supported throughout by everyone in his class team, Ruth Clarkson and his family,” Grecic continued. “Ruth sent [the letter] for no reason other than to reassure Ben that he is a wonderful talented young man regardless of the outcome of the tests.”
“All of our pupils are very special, unique individuals whose qualities aren’t always measurable through standard testing,” Grecic added. “We are still, however, in a position to be able to celebrate their individuality and achievements, of which there are many.”
Ben’s heartwarming story shows that a child’s strengths come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, a teacher’s belief in a student can also make a big difference to a pupil’s confidence. This touching letter helped an autistic boy see that regardless of exam results, he has a lot to be proud of.