Simone Sewell still shudders at the memory of the moment she was told her two-year-old daughter, Sienna, was autistic.
She and her husband, Geoff, sat in shock as the paediatrician spelt out the bleak future that awaited their first-born. 'The doctor said Sienna would never fall in love, marry or have an independent life,' recalls Simone. 'With no hope of a cure, we were more or less told to live with it.' Yet three years on and this grim future seems unlikely, given the great improvements in Sienna's behaviour. Indeed, her parents believe Sienna, now five, is on her way to being cured.
It's a staggering claim, not least because mainstream medicine insists autism - which affects nearly 600,000 UK children and adults - is a life-long condition. Yet Simone offers countless anecdotes as proof of her daughter's improvement. 'For instance, like many autistic children, Sienna always hated noise, people and busy places,' says Simone.
'She would scream, have a tantrum or cry because she was so overwhelmed. Now I can go shopping to a supermarket with Sienna holding one hand, and her sister Olivia, who is three, holding my other without worrying whether Sienna will stay by my side or create a scene. This is how I know she is getting better.'
This progress has been achieved at a cost - the couple have invested £100,000 in behavioural and dietary therapies, and Geoff, who was in the pop opera group Amici Forever, has given up his singing career to help with Sienna.