10 year old Muhammad-Raihan is profoundly autistic, and when a telegraph pole suddenly appeared outside his house, it threw him and his family into chaos.
“Raihan is non-verbal and has severe sensory issues,” explains his mother, Samiya Master. “He struggles to deal with even the smallest change in his routine. Raihan was terrified of the pole. He couldn’t sleep, which meant his siblings couldn’t either.
“Every night after the pole appeared, Raihan would wake up every hour and run into our room to look out of the window and check that it was still there.
“He wouldn’t play in the garden or even come out of the house – we had to bring him in and out through the back door.”
Raihan’s father, Imtiyaz Master, adds that one of the biggest problems was that they didn’t have any time to prepare him.
“No one knocked on our door or sent us a letter to tell us what was happening,” he says. “We have to work for months or even years to get Raihan accustomed to any upcoming change. If we’d been spoken to beforehand we could have at least talked to him about it.”
The telegraph pole belonged to Lancashire company Internexus, who had installed it as part of its roll-out of Blackburn’s first ultrafast broadband network.
Joanne Kay, a project coordinator at Internexus, was one of the first employees to speak to the family.
“As a private company, we made sure we followed the letter of the law when it came to communicating with residents about the installation of our telegraph poles,” explains Joanne.
“We had put up notices and signs on the street before work began, but after we spoke to the Master family in more detail, we realised that this wasn’t enough.
“We’d never considered the impact these sorts of changes can have on someone with severe additional needs such as Raihan.
“When the family asked if it was possible to move the pole, I don’t think they held out much hope. They were just desperate to bring a sense of normalcy back into their household.”
With the little boy continuing to struggle to sleep, his doctors doubled his medication. It resulted in Raihan still getting only three or four hours’ rest per night, sleeping with his knees hunched up tight to his chest.
“Between the ages of two and six, Raihan stopped sleeping completely,” says Samiya. “He cried and screamed all night for four years. We were petrified that the pole might make him regress back into not sleeping again.”
Meanwhile, Joanne returned to her bosses at Internexus and explained the family’s predicament.
“Installing telegraph poles can often cause consternation with residents, but the more we spoke to the family, the clearer it became that these were exceptional circumstances,” she says. “We consulted with the National Autistic Society, which was very supportive of the family’s position.
“In the end, our MD agreed that in this case we would be failing in our own values if we didn’t do something about it. So we contacted Blackburn council and obtained permission to relocate the pole away from the family’s home.”
For the Master family, it was a major relief after a difficult few years of supporting their little boy with all his additional needs.
“Raihan is our miracle baby,” says Samiya. “I had a traumatic pregnancy, with serious complications throughout. My faith helped carry me through, but we were told that there would be some consequences for Raihan.
“We feel that his autism was probably the result of the difficulties during pregnancy, but it’s impossible to prove with any certainty.
“I don’t know how “normal” families do things, but we have to plan ahead for everything. He is now moving into year six at school, where he has to wear a different coloured sweater.
“We have been working with him and the school for the last year to get him comfortable with even this change and it is still incredibly hard for him to deal with it.”
Imtiyaz says: “We really want to extend our thanks to Joanne at Internexus. She told us that she would do everything in her power to help us and they were not just empty words.
“I know it probably sounds like the pole was a small change to other people, but it made such a difference to Raihan’s wellbeing. Now it’s been moved he is a much happier, relaxed little boy, which means the family is more relaxed too – we will never forget what the company has done for us.”
Joanne says: “Our experience the Master family has taught us a huge amount about how we communicate with residents while we expand our network.
“We have completely changed our communications strategy and now employ community liaison officers to work directly with residents on the streets where we will be operating.
“I was really pleased that we were able to help Raihan and his family – you never really think about the impact you can make until it’s right in front of you.”