Sat | Mar 23, 2019

Delight for Darion - Spencer’s Tailoring provides lifeline for youngster with intellectual disability

Published:Sunday | September 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis
Lionel Rookwood/Phootgrapher Darion Blake(left) and his mother Sophia Haye.

For more than 20 years, Sophia Haye worried about the future of her son who was diagnosed as autistic when he was just over two years old.

But Haye is less worried now as her son is now gainfully employed in his dream job as a tailor.

When her son, Darion Blake, was two years old, he fell off a jungle gym at his school and hit his head.

According to Haye, she then noticed that he started talking less and was not his usual self. She took him to a paediatrician who told her that he was displaying characteristics of someone with autism. Later, he was diagnosed as having mild to moderate autism.

Haye enrolled Darion in another basic school but by then he had stopped talking and the children would refer to him as 'dummy'.

She moved him to a prep school for special-needs children, but as a single mother with three other children on a secretary salary it was proving to be too expensive.

His next move to a primary school worked out as the teachers there got him to start talking again.

"Darion doesn't like to be referred to as autistic, he prefers if they say he has an intellectual disability. He doesn't want to be treated differently, he sees himself as being normal," said Haye.

"He's a loner, he doesn't like crowd, so people will misunderstand him. Persons who don't have knowledge of what autism is would not understand," added Haye.

Darion then settled at the Randolph Lopez School of Hope in St Andrew for his secondary education and was appointed prefect, then deputy head boy, and valedictorian at his graduation.

It was there that he received training in soft furnishings, and in 2014 represented the school in a cushion making competition. He won and was awarded a trophy and a sewing machine for the school.


Two-year course


After graduation, he started at the Abilities Foundation and completed a two-year course of studies in fashion and decor with credit.

"He was just home now not doing anything, and he was very depressed but he's a very independent boy. He looked in the newspapers and applied for jobs but each time he went for interviews they didn't take him. I told him I was going to help him get a job, I don't know how I was going to do it but I know I was going to do it" said Haye.

She said she was at a Labour Day community project in Duhaney Park where she went to talk to her Member of Parliament Anthony Hylton (St Andrew Western) and asked him about his plans for members of the disabled community in her area.

A few days later, Hylton arranged a meeting with Senator Floyd Morris, who is blind. Morris introduced her to Mavis Burrell-Spencer at Spencer's Tailoring, who offered Darion a job.

"I press clothes and I make pockets and shoulder pads. I like sewing, I like everything about it, I can use a machine, I know how to thread and do everything on it," said the now 22-year-old Darion, who is a man of few words.

He was placed on staff at the tailoring establishment after three months.

"When he told me Mrs Spencer offered him the job, I actually cried. I could breathe a sigh of relief because I was thinking my son will be able to work and will basically have a life," said Haye, who was worried that Darion would not be employed

Burrell-Spencer, who has always supported the disabled community and has five mute persons on her staff, said she was initially hesitant about hiring Darion because she was not sure what to expect.

"After talking to her (Haye) and she described the type of person he was, I said to her, 'I will give him a try'. When I saw Darion ... he was very quiet and he was friendly and he seemed to be a very loving person.

"When I see the way he works, he loves sewing, and one of the things I notice is that he gets along with everybody and he is anxious to learn whatever they give him or show him," said Burrell-Spencer.

She said so far she has no regrets making him a member of staff, as he is proving to be an asset to the team.

"I was happy that she had given him this chance. Darion is now a happier child, he said he's saving to buy his house and his car; he seems to be looking towards having a bright future," said Haye.