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Kingspark School pupil Leo, 9, can’t walk or talk but communicates with his award-winning smile

Leo Davidson, from Kirriemuir, has life-limiting infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy.

Leo Davidson with his Kingspark School Sensory Superstar Award.
Winner of Kingspark School's Sensory Superstar Award. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson.

Leo Davidson can’t walk or talk – but the smile he uses to communicate is award-winning.

The nine-year-old from Kirriemuir was named Kingspark School’s 2024 Sensory Superstar on account of his ability to show joy and make choices despite the challenges he faces.

Leo uses his smile and his eyes to tell staff at the Dundee special school what he wants.

And at a time when many schools were holding annual prizegiving ceremonies, his award was just one way in which Kingspark School celebrated the achievements of its pupils.

Seeing him presented with it was a particularly emotional moment for mum Claire Davidson who feared she may lose him earlier this year.

Leo has infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy (INAD), an extremely rare genetic disorder affecting nerve axons in the brain and causing progressive loss of vision and physical and mental skills.

From end-of-life care to winning an award

Life expectancy of children with it is five to 10 years.

Leo’s condition deteriorated a few months ago to the point that he was given end-of-life care.

But Claire said: “Leo decided he was having a different story. He is still weaker and more tired but he is doing really well now.

“It was amazing to see him get his award.”

Leo with siblings Taylor and Pyper-Rose. Image: Claire Davidson.

Leo, who has an elder brother and sister, Taylor, 14, and Pyper-Rose, 7, seemed like a typical child for the first three years of his life.

Claire said: “Then he started to lose his walking.

“He was falling over and he couldn’t pick himself up.

“Two weeks before he turned three he stopped walking altogether.”

Leo also started to lose speech and was diagnosed with the condition when he was four years old.

Now he needs round-the-clock care and is PEG-fed, which means he receives food and fluids through a tube into his stomach.

Leo chooses with his eyes and smile

Despite his difficulties, Claire says he loves going to Kingspark School, which caters for children with complex additional support needs.

Activities there include hydrotherapy and rebound therapy on a trampoline, both of which delight Leo and bring out his beaming smile.

Claire said: “Kingspark is a really amazing school. Leo loves swimming and he gets hydrotherapy every Monday which I would not be able to do with him.

“The way the school staff interact with him is amazing. He still gets choices and they use a lot of visuals for him.

“He will choose what he wants with his eyes and smile.

“That’s really important because he still has his own mind and is able to make his own choices, he just struggles to communicate them.”

Leo received his award from head teacher Paul Dow watched by mum Claire (right) and Councillor Roisin Smith (left). Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson.

Kingspark School head teacher Paul Dow presented P4 pupil Leo with his award in front of classmates and Councillor Roisin Smith.

The Sensory Superstar Award is among a number of ways the school recognises achievements of its pupils, including a more traditional prizegiving ceremony and posts on its Wow Wall.

Paul said: “We are always thinking about what we want for our young people, our hopes and dreams for them when they leave here and what skills they need to achieve those.

Leo’s incredible strength

“Then we recognise their achievements whether that’s formally through national qualifications or in other ways.”

Leo’s award illustrates the individualised approach the school takes towards recognising success.

He said: “We didn’t think Leo would make it through the year. This celebrates the fact that he has shown an incredible amount of strength to overcome that.”

Staff, he said, interpret Leo’s non-verbal cues to give him the best experience they can.

“What we see is a boy coming in very settled, a boy who smiles and shows contentment and enjoyment of his relationships with staff and peers.”