Now teachers are awake to Aaron's rare sleep condition

THE parents of a boy forced to quit his school because he kept falling asleep in class have praised Edinburgh teachers for giving him a new lease of life.

Aaron Mackie was withdrawn from his old school because his parents claimed teachers did not understand narcolepsy - the medical condition which meant he could nod off at any moment.

They say he would be punished for laziness and his grades suffered as a result.

But since the family moved from Aberdeen to Edinburgh for a fresh start and sent Aaron to Portobello High School last September, the 16-year-old has experienced a remarkable upturn in fortunes.

That has led to improved grades across the board, and he is now also an active and successful member of the Marine Cadets.

Aaron's father, Bill Mackie - a retired education worker who also served with the now-defunct Gordon Highlanders for four years - says teachers at Portobello deserve thanks for the transformation of his son's life in the last six months.

He said: "He had an awful time at Aberdeen. The advice we gave the school on dealing with his condition just wasn't passed on to the teachers. They didn't know what they were supposed to do.

"It has been so different at Portobello. He's always wanted to be in the military, but he wasn't getting on well at school at all and with his condition getting worse there was no way he'd have been able to."

Aaron was withdrawn from St Machar Academy in Aberdeen during his third year in November 2005 after his condition got so bad that he would fall asleep up to five times a day in school for anything between ten seconds and 20 minutes at a time.

But since moving to Edinburgh, his health has improved greatly and he only suffers now on a few occasions a month.

Mr Mackie met with the deputy headteacher at Portobello High before Aaron started at the school, explained the condition and wrote down everything that should be done should he fall asleep.

That included not waking him up - because the confusion could lead to him lashing out - then feeding him sugary sweets and water when he did wake.

The advice was circulated to every teacher whose class Aaron would be in.

After receiving medical advice at Glasgow's Yorkhill, Mr Mackie says he made changes to his son's routine and diet, but he is convinced the main cause of Aaron's improving health has been the reduced stress because of the way he is treated at school.

Mr Mackie, who lives with wife Margaret, Aaron, and son Simeon at Lochend Castle Barns, said:

"He's developed so much and it's all thanks to the way teachers have understood and dealt with it."

Aaron, who was diagnosed with a form of narcolepsy in 2003, is now heavily involved with the Marine Cadets in South Queensferry and he hopes to join the Royal Marine Reserves in Rosyth when he completes his time at school.

The teenager said: "I just try to get on with it and do my work but I had a lot of problems in Aberdeen with the teachers.

"It's a lot easier to talk to teachers about the condition down here. They seem to know more about it."

He added: "I really enjoy the Marine Cadets. It's something I want to do a lot and hopefully I'm getting nearer to that now."

Peigi Macarthur, headteacher at Portobello High School, said: "We do all that we can to ensure pupils with additional support needs feel included and supported in the school."

The facts

Narcolepsy is a malfunction within the brain's sleep/wake regulating system which often results in the sufferer falling asleep without warning.

Among the other common symptoms often experienced by sufferers are temporary paralysis, hallucinations, moments of trance-like behaviour and the interruption of night-time sleeping by frequent waking periods.

Most sufferers experience Excessive Daytime Sleepiness as part of the condition. Experts say patients have to expend an ever greater effort on remaining awake, but even if they stave off sleep, it can be in vain as they can be incapable of performing many tasks competently.

The exact number of narcolepsy sufferers is not known as it often goes unreported, but experts think it affects about 80,000 people in the UK.

Back to the top of the page