By Amy Farnworth
A single dad from Nottingham has found the perfect way to helps calm his autistic son by transforming himself into SPIDERMAN.
Dale Grounds, from Nottingham, has raised son Reece, eight, by himself since Reece was six months old.
When Reece was diagnosed with autism in 2015, Dale struggled to find a way to cope with his meltdowns and moods – especially on his own.
But he has come up with an ingenious solution – by dressing up as Reece’s favourite superhero, Spiderman.
Now, when Reece gets stressed, Spider-dad will appear to help him with his homework, have a kickabout in the back garden or read him a bed-time story.
His unusual parenting method has been such a hit that he’s even started visiting sick kids at his local hospital dressed as the comic book hero – as well as being inundated with requests to appear at Reece’s friends birthday parties.
Dale, 27, said: “I first started dressing up as Spiderman as a way to calm Reece down.
“He would have really bad meltdowns which resulted in non-stop crying.
“I’d tried everything to help him but nothing seemed to work.
“Then one day I walked into the living room and he was watching Spiderman and he was so engrossed.
“I bought this costume for £25 and decided I was going to wear it when I went to pick Reece up from school.
“When I turned up in full costume, the reaction from all the kids was crazy.
“Reece didn’t realise it was me at first, but when he clicked, he couldn’t believe it.
“For a while he didn’t really grasp the fact that I was his dad and Spiderman as well, but now he does and he thinks what I do is amazing.
“It’s really helped with his moods too, so it’s great that I’ve been able to help him in this way.”
“There was a time when Reece came home from school and was really upset, he was crying a lot and took himself upstairs to bed and wouldn’t let me talk to him.
“When he’s in meltdown mode it can be really hard to get through to him; he enters his own world and you have to say and do all the right things to help or it just gets worse.
“So I got the Spiderman suit on and made a super appearance into the bedroom. It made him laugh but then he started crying again.
“I started doing some silly dances and asked him to join in and he found it really funny and decided to get his Stormtrooper outfit on and join me.
“Eventually I was able to persuade him to come downstairs and we switched on the Playstation and spent a good hour doing some goofy dances together. He was so much happier afterwards.”
Realising he was onto a winner with the Spiderman idea, Dale even began to turn up at friend’s children’s parties dressed as the comic book hero.
And after receiving nothing but positive praise from his mates, he decided to take it one step further.
In 2016, Dale got in touch with staff at Nottingham Children’s Hospital to see if he could donate some Easter eggs to the kids on the wards.
“I saw that some footballers from Nottingham Forest had done something similar and I wanted to get involved with helping the children too.
“I thought turning up dressed as Spiderman with a load of Easter eggs would be a great way to make hospital visits comfortable for the children.
“One of the healthy play specialists at the Queens Medical Centre replied to me and we organised my first visit.
“It was brilliant. The kids loved it.”
Since then, Dale, has continued to visit the hospital, taking in treats for the sick children.
“I now go to the hospital every Thursday morning dressed as Spiderman, visiting a different ward each week.
“Some weeks I’m on the cancer ward, other times I’m visiting children in the burns unit; it varies all the time.
“I can be doing anything from playing on the Playstation with some kids, or just having a chat with them.
“I’ve formed bonds with some of the long term patients and some of them really open up to me; I think the costume makes them feel more at ease.
“The parents are really supportive of what I do too; some of them even join in with my entertaining and they love it.”
And the dad of one has now turned his passion into a career and set up his own business, Spidey-Tastic, entertaining children at parties and events.
“It’s been an awesome adventure so far and one that’s really starting to become incredible now.
“The reason I started putting on the suit was for my little autistic superhero.
“At first it was a superhero taking time out to play with him, then it became his dad putting on a suit to help him through tough times when he didn’t just need his dad, he needed his dad to be his hero.
“Now he’s grown older and wiser he just thinks it’s awesome when I put the suit on or go to work or have a little play with him around the house.”
Despite being able to choose when he works, Dale said it’s not always been easy, bringing Reece up alone.
“It’s been tough but it’s made mine and Reece’s bond unbreakable.
“I was 19 when he was born, and have looked after him alone since he was six months old, so I missed out on all the things a normal 19 year old would do but I never look back and want to change it.
“I love being a single parent; it made me grow up very quickly.
“Reece and I do everything together, whether I’m in costume or not, and it’s amazing.”
Dale says that what has helped is the fact he’s pretty much the same as the character of Spiderman; goofy, fun, quick witted, and can talk to children on a level they understand.
“With my personality and the suit I’m able to bring Spiderman to life for Reece and other children, and them believing that a real superhero took the time to come and see them can make a real difference.
“I love doing it and will carry on for as long as I can because even as Reece gets older, what I’ve learned and done with him I can do the same for other children along the way.”