Durban mother keeps promise to autistic son, sources R10m funding for special classes

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The Bramley family from left, David, Katy, Wendy and Connor.
The Bramley family from left, David, Katy, Wendy and Connor.
Wendy Bramley
  • A Durban mother promised to build classrooms for her autistic son if she could not find a school for him, and she has done just that.
  • It took years of toil, but Wendy Bramley finally pulled it off by roping in her old school's principal Rob Holding, and a kind donor.
  • Bramley secured the R10 million needed to build five classrooms for her son and other special needs children.

The old saying "nobody loves you like your mother" shone through Durban mum Wendy Bramley, who promised her autistic son that if she could not find a school who would take him, she would build the classrooms herself.

It took years of toil to raise the R10 million to fulfil her promise, but she did not give up, for the sake of her autistic son and other children who struggle to find schools that give these children the extra support they need.

By the time, Wendy Bramley's autistic son, Connor, was nearing the end of primary school, it was almost impossible to find a high school where teachers were trained to accommodate his special needs.

Connor was anxious about the next phase of learning but was also eager to experience high school.

He would constantly nag his mother about high school. How would he manage? How would he cope?

Young Connor Bramley
Young Connor Bramley
Supplied Wendy Bramley

And like any loving mom, Wendy, promised her boy she would find him a school that assists pupils with autism and other special needs.

Connor, 15, is extremely intelligent, and already started fretting about high school when he was in Grade 6.

"He was worried. I told him not to stress and that I will find him a high school," said the mother of two.

"It was a question that he kept repeating: 'Mum, I don't have a high school, what am I going to do? Where am I going to go?' I said, 'Connor, I am your mother, I will find you a high school. And if I cannot find you one, I will build you one.' I said it because I did not want him to worry. Because that is what mums do."

True to her word, she set about finding him a high school, but the fees at special needs private schools were way out of reach for her and her policeman husband.

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So, she resolved to start raising funds so that Connor, and children like him, would not be marginalised.

She was urged to homeschool him, but she wanted him to have the full high school experience and the best education.

By the time Connor reached Grade 6, she had already planned ahead and approached her old school, Kloof High School, said Bramley.

"I approached my old school, and the principal was my history teacher who I had from Standard 6 to matric in those days. I went to see him about this, and he immediately said he would take Connor and wanted to build a support unit for children like Connor who need extra support in a high school, but they never had funding to build in a government school," Wendy said.

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She said principal Rob Holding agreed that if she got the funding, he would permit the building of extra classes to accommodate children with special learning needs.

Wendy managed to secure a whopping R10 million through the generosity of a private trust, but it took years of persistence.

"I approached a private trust fund, and for the past three years I have been telling them my son's story."

She said she had to break down all of the processes of studying with him, and how a proper teaching experience would benefit him.

She said:

I've studied with him and taught him, when he comes home from school. I download syllabuses to teach him, and as the years have gone on, I have kept the trust fund up to date saying, 'Look at this child, he needs the support to go into matric'. The classes are too big. He needs smaller classes, and needs the extra support.

What she has managed to pull off is a commitment to build an extra five classrooms, with support rooms, so that the pupils will progress all the way to matric in classes of around 15 pupils.

Construction is expected to commence in three months, and the project is scheduled for completion at the end of the year.

Wendy said the funding and cooperation of the school was an enormous relief for her and her husband, who has been very supportive.

"It is a huge load off our shoulders. When I told Connor we can keep him at Kloof, he was so happy."

David, Connor's dad, told News24 he also battled with schoolwork.

"When I was at primary school level, I ended up in a support or remedial class, and the teacher-pupil ratio was much smaller than the regular classes. Eventually, I was able to find my feet and cope, [getting] more of the teachers' attention than in a normal class."

Difficult high school life

Unfortunately for David, when he got to high school, there was no support unit.

"I fell behind almost immediately. I never got to catch up and as the years went by, I really battled and even repeated a year. I scraped through and got my matric."

He said it was important to him to find support for Connor.

READ | Study finds differences between brains of girls and boys with autism

"Fortunately, this was offered to him at Kloof High School and he was allowed to continue this year in Grade 9 until Grade 12. He will be able to attend high school until he completes his matric. It is exciting for Wendy and I. It was a big worry to us. We are so grateful to the school and the funders for making this happen," said David.

Connor said: 

I love going to Kloof High school and I'm glad I can stay until Grade 12. The teachers are great, and I love my school. I am grateful that students with learning disabilities can now go to Kloof High because when I was in Grade 6, I thought I would not be able to go to high school.

His sister, Katy, 15, is proud of her brother's tenacity.

"He tries so hard and never gives up. He is the kindest person I know."

Meeting the needs of the community

Principal Holding said they always offered academic support and endeavoured to meet the needs of the community.

"Our senior primary level has an academic support unit, as has Kloof Junior Primary. So, to me it was logical that there would be a continuity to the high school phase, but also, we could actually service the broader highway community," Holding said.

"As a community school, I wanted us to be able to serve the entire community and not lose pupils at the point where they needed academic support they could not provide. Now they don't have to leave the community."

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