Mum backs Lexden Springs School's campaign for play area

Devrim Ozturk and mum Debbie

Devrim Ozturk and mum Debbie

First published in News by


ASK Devrim Ozturk what his name and he will tell you - its Superman (with accompanying arm movement).

"How old are you, Dev?" "69," he says. It has gone up from earlier in the day when he was 64.

Dev is, in fact, 14. Today, he wants to be rapper Jay Z. He has the swagger.

Dev is an entertainer. He is charming and expressive, he has no sense of embarrassment or teenage angst. He is just Dev.

Dev also has the genetic disorder Down's Syndrome. His mum, Debbie, loves the bones of him.

Dev can be affectionate and funny but he can also have outbursts of temper. As he grows older and physically bigger, it can be threatening. He has the mental age of a six-year-old.

Babies can be tested for Down's Syndrome while they are in the womb but Debbie slipped through the net.

She was the sales manager for a newspaper in London, enjoying a successful career in Canary Wharf, when she feel pregnant.

"I was 33," she said. "I wasn't particularly maternal. I went to have my 12 week scan. It was a Friday and they said come back on Monday.

"They said you need to prepare yourself for a difficult decision.

"When I went back, there were several people there and I had the scans. They said there was nothing to worry about.

"I believed them. I skipped down the road, everything seemed OK.

"At my 20 week scan, they could not see the four chambers of his heart and I had to go back again. They said everything looked fine."

But everything was not fine.

After Dev was born, the nurses took blood samples from him. Six weeks later, Debbie was called back to the hospital.

"They told me, unceremoniously, Dev had Down's Syndrome.

"It was very cold. They sent me home with some leaflets."

Debbie was on her own with Dev. Her former husband was living in Turkey and while they stayed in touch they did not have a settled relationship.

Debbie said: "I was devastated. It was the end of my life as I knew it.

"I did not tell anyone, except one friend, until he was three-months-old.

"I had to come to terms with it myself before I could tell anyone because I had to be able to deal with people's reactions.

"I only told my mum when I had to because I moved to live with her.

"I knew my life would never be the same again."

Debbie, 47, who lives in Colchester, admits if she had been told Dev had Down's Syndrome while she was pregnant, she may have opted for a termination.

"Statistics show most women do in that situation and given the sort of person I was then, I probably would have done so. I was selfish.

"You have this idea of children growing up to be clever and going to university.

"Now I am glad I was not told. I could not imagine my life without him."

When Dev was six-months-old, doctors at Addenbrooks Hospital found he had a hole in the heart.

He was referred to Great Ormond Street Hospital within weeks and underwent a seven hour operation.

Debbie said: "It was like watching someone else's life.

"You are given a bleeper and the longer it goes on without you being called, the better. It means nothing has gone wrong."

Debbie gave up work when Dev was 13 months.

She went from her high-flying City life to caring for a disabled child. It meant endless rounds of hospital appointments and sessions with occupational, speech and physio therapists.

"I went from one extreme to another. I did get depressed. I knew all our plans would not happen now.

"But I was devoted to Dev and he was and is my priority."

All the while Debbie watches Dev as he plays on his game. Her eyes light up as she speaks about him and there is not an ounce of resentment or self-pity.

Debbie had her second son, Tarik, who is now 12, and after a few years past, she decided to move to Turkey to try to make a go of it with her then husband.

"It was lovely at first. We had all his family there.

"It became more and more difficult. Turkey is about 50 years behind England in terms of educating children with disabilities.

"They do have schools but they are more like the old institutions."

Dev was taught at home but there was no structure to his days.

Debbie said: "I looked into the future and it frightened me to death.

"He did not know how to behave socially. I knew he had to learn how to integrate."

After four years, when Dev was 12, she moved back to England and Dev started to go to Lexden Springs special school.

"I knew in my heart I had to come back.

"At first, I used to get a call from the school almost every day because he was swearing at the teachers or behaving inappropriately.

"He has come such a long way. It felt fantastic that we were working together for him."

Debbie will never stop worrying about Dev. He has no awareness of danger, is vulnerable and open to suggestion.

But he is making progress. He is learning how to behave socially and play is central to that.

Debbie is supporting the 100,000 Smiles appeal to raise £100,000 to build a play area at Lexden Springs School.

She takes him to the play area at Castle Park in Colchester and said: "He tries to play with the younger children because that is where he is mentally but they just see a teenager.

"To have a play area at the school, which is a safe environment, would mean the world.

"Through play, they are encouraged to learn and learn about how to behave socially. It is also a good way of letting their frustrations out.

"If they got this play area, it would like all their Christmases come at once."

And Dev is clear. I ask him: "Do you like the swings, the slide, the roundabout?"

"Yes," he says and nods. Enough said.

* THE 100,000 Smiles campaign aims to create a new play area for the school which would include swings and a roundabout, which could be used by disabled children, including those in wheelchairs.

For the more able children, there would be a rope climbing frame.

A bubble tunnel and wobble board would assist the children with their agility and balance as would a wavy bridge while a wavy mirror would provide sensory stimulation for children.

To contribute to the fundraising appeal, send a cheque to the Lexden Springs Appeal Fund at Lexden Springs School, Halstead Road, Colchester, CO3 9AB, or go to


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