Two years ago, James Hobley couldn’t read or write and was happier playing with his cats than talking to his family. Then, aged eight, he discovered disco dancing and his life changed forever. Within months he was reading and writing and winning dance competitions. Now he wants to be known as James the amazing dancer, not James the boy with autism. He’s competing for the world title in disco at Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom, but can he win?
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“Before the dancing, I was a nobody,” says Jimmy. “I was a regular school kid with special needs.
“Dancing makes me feel like I’m normal… like all the other kids… it’s like somebody’s fixed my brain inside.”
Sheila Hobley, the mother of the boys.
“He spoke first, walked first and was the only one who could read. James was always in George’s shadow.
“James’s life at home was playing on his computer games and a lot of television.”
But that all changed when a leaflet for a local dance class came through the door.
“James was keen, was throwing himself around unable to do the splits. He was trying his best but at times I thought he would injure himself,” says Sheila.
Within four months, he was at his first disco competition with a routine of his own. He was only expected to make the first round but he made it right through to the final.
He hardly slept the night after the first competition and could not wait for the next one.
Since he began, he has won over 20 competitions, including the beginners’ title in the World Championships when he was only eight.
he National Autistic Society (NAS) says that it is the outlet, not just the dancing itself, that could have helped Jimmy’s transformation.
“People with autism are often isolated and excluded from social opportunities due to a lack of understanding of their disability and this is especially true of sporting and activity groups,” says Carol Povey, director of the NAS’s Centre for Autism.
“Whilst dancing may not be appropriate for everyone, it is certainly true that attending a group and taking part in an activity where the individual is accepted and valued for what they can offer can have a huge impact on self esteem and help teach social skills.”
Dancing – by all accounts – has been great for Jimmy but it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the family.
With outfits costing more than £600 and entry fees to competitions, dancing has not been a cheap hobby and George, without something to focus his attention on, is struggling.
Sheila says: “I know that George is feeling it because he has somehow been left behind. He’s not needed by Jimmy. He’s grown away from Jimmy in quite a lot of respects.”
Despite the worries about George, Sheila says that “even with the benefit of hindsight we would do it again” because of the progress Jimmy has made.