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Wear It For Autism: Nominations Now Open

20 Jun

Has your life been affected by autism or do you know someone whose has? Do you know someone who is always putting others before themselves and deserves an extra-special treat? Nominate them now and they could be part of Wear It For Autism.

Wear It For Autism is looking for mums, dads, children and carers – who either have autism themselves or care for those living with the condition – to have a full makeover and take centre-stage in a stylish fashion event at London’s Vinyl Factory on Tuesday 10 September.

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Nominations are open now until Sunday 23 June 2013. Celebrity judges, including Gail Porter and Adele Silva, alongside Maggie Paterson, Principal of Pineapple Performing Arts Covent Garden, will select winners from across five categories – mums, dads, young carers, children with autism, and adults with austim. All the winners will be treated to a top-to-toe makeover by styling experts and take part in the Wear It for Autism catwalk show.

Anna Kennedy said: “The idea behind Wear It For Autism was to spoil those who usually never get a chance to treat – or even think of – themselves. Living with autism can be challenging and extremely demanding, so we wanted to create a special event that will be fun for all involved, as well as raise vital funds to campaign for the rights of those with this disability.”

If you know a parent, carer or child affected by autism, or if you want to take part in Wear It For Autism, nominate now at www.annakennedyonline.com

Tickets for the show are available now, priced £25 each. All profits go to the registered charity Anna Kennedy Online, which supports UK families affected by autism, including providing small grants for educational and domestic resources

Sponsor’s for the event are, Littlewood’s,Toni & Guy, Pineapple Arts, London Beauty Queen and Mahogony

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Celebs Help Raise Funds For New Autism School

29 Nov

Stars of the stage, screen and sporting world came together at the weekend at a Mad Men style ball to support the Hearts and Minds Challenge.

The ball, which was held at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester on Sunday, November 25, was a resounding success, raising £40,000 for the charity, which supports children with autism.

The star studded event was hosted by three of the charity’s dedicated celebrity patrons; Paul Scholes, Mel Sykes and Keith Duffy. All the funds raised will be going towards a £1 million project to build a new school in Manchester for autistic children.

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The 1950s Mad Men theme ensured that all the guests were dressed up to the nines, harking back to a bygone era of style. One of the highlights of the night was a luxury auction, which included VIP passes to the prestigious Prix De Triumph in Paris, a one-off signed mosaic of Paul Scholes created by Salford artist Robert Lally and an exclusive.

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Founder of the Hearts and Minds Challenge, Ian McGrath, said “We’re thrilled that the ball has been such a hit and such a substantial sum was raised. The event was enjoyed by all and we are delighted we have managed to increase people’s awareness of autism and our plans for a new school in Manchester.”

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After sitting down to a three course meal, guests were invited to take a turn on the dance floor to the sounds of Atomic Kitten star Natasha Hamilton, and crooner Cole Page.

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Boyzone and Coronation Street star Keith Duffy, said “I’m really grateful to my friends and family for coming along to support the cause, and I’m sure they had a great time. We all had a lot of fun, but what’s really important are the funds we’ve raised.”

The Hearts and Minds Challenge aims to raise the quality of life for individuals and their families affected by autism, by ensuring the provision of the highest standards in education, care and support. For more information, please
visit the hearts and minds website

Learning Disabilities, Autism and Internet Safety: A Parent’s Guide

19 Oct

A new guide to help parents of children with learning disabilities and autism is being launched today. The guide, a collaboration between charities Cerebra, Mencap and Ambitious about Autism, aims to help parents limit the risk of their child having negative experiences online and understand what action can be taken if they do. It also suggests resources that will help children get the most out of the internet at home and in the community.

Tracy Elliot, Head of Research at Cerebra explains: “as a national research charity, Cerebra strive to improve the lives of children with neurodevelopmental disorders and brain injury, through research, education and direct ongoing family support. There are real benefits to young people with learning disabilities and autism using the internet, but also potential dangers. We wanted to support parents in making informed choices about internet use and enable them to help their child get the most out of the internet. We know we share this aim with other charities like Mencap and Ambitious about Autism and believe that this joint approach helps all of us promote the message more widely. Some excellent resources already exist around this topic and we have referred parents to those resources, promoting wider awareness of these resources without duplicating effort”.

Use of the internet is on the increase with 77% of households in Great Britain having an internet connection in 2011. Increasingly, children and young people are learning and socialising using online resources. Many children with special educational needs are supported to use information technology in schools to allow them to access their education more successfully. Children use the internet to do their homework, to play games and to socialise with their peers. There are real benefits to young people with learning disabilities and autism using the internet for learning and social interaction and increasingly the internet caters for their needs with accessible design and simplified language.

However, alongside the many benefits it brings to children and young people there are also a number of risks. With access to technology comes the potential for cyber bullying, online grooming and risk of exposure to inappropriate content. This is a risk for all children and young people using the internet but the risk can be more profound for young people with a learning disability as a result of increased vulnerability, tendencies towards obsessive compulsive behaviour and social naivety. Studies have shown that pupils with Special Educational Needs are 16% more likely to be persistently cyber bullied over a prolonged period of time.

Mark Atkinson, Director of Policy, Ambitious about Autism said: “We know that children with special educational needs are more at risk of being bullied online, and for longer, than other children. Such a negative experience can be distressing and disorientating for a young person with autism and learning disabilities, especially as it may take longer for them to understand what’s happening and to tell their families. This type of bullying not only affects a child or young person but their family’s wellbeing too, as we know parents and carers often feel upset and powerless about not being able to protect their child online. Cyber bullying has exactly the same devastating implications as face to face bullying for vulnerable children and their families, and this guide provides helpful strategies to counter it”.

The comprehensive Parent’s Guide gives advice on how to make both home and mobile internet safe and how to prepare your child to use the internet. It identifies a range of potential risks and gives advice on how to prevent/deal with them as well as suggesting how to safely explore the many benefits using the internet can give.

Elizabeth Archer, National Children and Young People’s Programme Manager at Mencap and author of the guide, says: “we so often hear about young people with a learning disability having negative experiences online, but the internet can actually provide great opportunities for learning and socialising. The problem is that many parents don’t know where to start when it comes to protecting their child online and this is where we hope our guide will help. It provides information on how to make your home and mobile internet safe, guidance on how to support your child to use the internet safely, advice on various risk factors such as cyberbullying and criminal activity, and links to useful websites and organisations. We hope the guide will help parents to feel empowered to help their child make the most of the opportunities available to them online”.

The guide can be downloaded from www.cerebra.org.uk or to receive a copy please contact Catherine Hylton, Research Officer at Cerebra on catherineh@cerebra.org.uk.

Playing Bingo To Raise Money For The NAS

2 Oct

Playing bingo is not something I do often especially online. I used to go to our local bingo hall with my mum and as a result won some impressive amounts of money.

I was contacted by the guys at 888 Ladies (an online ladies only bingo site) They asked me if I wanted to play some bingo and win some money for my chosen charity.

How could I pass up the opportunity to raise some funds for the National Autistic Society (NAS). The guys at 888 Ladies loaded my account with £50 funds, (the account was easily set up and this didn’t take long at all). Then I had a month to win my charity some cash.

How it would work: I could play with the £50 funds and had the period of a month to do so. Anything I won could be reused to play more bingo. However every time I won the amount was logged and when the month was over all my prizes would be adding up and the full amount donated to the NAS.

Given I’m not really able to play during the day when I’m guessing its much busier I had no choice but to play quite late at night. I was either able to play the party bingo or the more traditional form of bingo.

I tried both forms of play but defiantly enjoyed the party bingo more. You can purchase anything from 1-90 cards and with each game you had to make a certain pattern to win. Obviously the more players the greater the prize. This also goes for the cost of each card.The greater the cost the greater the prize (dependent on the number of cards in play of course). I played everything from 5p to £1 per game play.

You may wonder how a person can possibly keep up when purchasing more than one card (90 especially). This is because the game is automatic so once you have purchased your cards the system knows when you are left with one number and if its called the game stops and your declared the game winner. The prize money is then automatically added to your account.

Of course there is the chance more than one person needs the same number and therefore you have a case of more than one winner. In such cases prize money is equally spilt between all winners.

For me online bingo isn’t really the same as the real life game. The excitement of it all is somewhat different. I love marking of my numbers with a dabber and even the danger of possibly missing your prize adds to the overall excitement. I quite missed this element of the game but still had fun all the same.

As I could only play at night I found there to be much less activity so I was therefore playing for smaller sums of money. However I did have quite a few wins and just knowing that each one was adding to my overall total for the NAS was really exciting.

The total I won was around £54 in total plus the initial £50 is donated so that’s £104. Yay… I’m glad the NAS will be able to make use of my donation.

Why I chose the NAS: A charity very close to my heart. My son has Aspergers and through some of our hardest battles from diagnosis to education they have been supportive. I’ve also volunteered for their TSS (tribunal support service) to help other parents get their children the special education they deserve. When it comes to advocating and advice the NAS do it best. They also run special schools and other services. Click here to visit their informative website

STOP MOCKING CHILDREN WITH AUTISM

22 Sep

Why does our TV channels feel its OK to screen shows featuring comedians mocking children and Adults with autism?

What really annoys me most is that this same channel screens programmes that actually help to raise awareness for autism yet they are happy to feature so called funny comedians joking at the expense of a child like mine.

I was sat up late on Thursday night/Friday morning as I couldn’t sleep. I sat on the sofa wrapped in a blanket, a cuppa by my side, watching BBC3.

“Oh Russell Howard… I like him” I thought to myself.

I like how this young comedian is able to take something and brighten it up. His funny look on life is refreshing. He never seems to overstep the mark, and importantly he is able to laugh at himself.

Then what happened? Yer, you’ve guessed it… Russell Howard joined the many other unappealing comedians out there and I suddenly found myself going off him in what seemed like an instant.

The show ‘Right Here Right Now’ is a stand up recording of Russell Howard on stage doing his thing.

The not so funny joke…

“Why is Bieber famous?? I’ll tell you why, it’s because he said the word baby more times than any man in a 3 minute period. It’s like an autistic child in a maternity ward, Baby, Baby, Baby… OOH. That’s not music that’s mental illness!”

Did I overreact by writing this? I don’t think I did. For one autism is a spectrum condition, not all children with autism repeat things! Secondly and most importantly, Autism isn’t even a mental illness it’s a Neurological condition. Miss informing a nation that’s already built upon ignorance and stigma isn’t going to help anybody is it!

I don’t think any comedian who feels its OK to mock another because they are autistic or suffer mental health difficulties is worth watching. Would he had thought twice if this involved another medical condition? My guess is yes!

But above all what upsets me more is that the BBC are happy to screen such rubbish, especially given they broadcast shows that do such a great job to highlight the positives in autism.

I’m a mother who has watched her child struggle not just with aspects of his Aspergers diagnosis but at the hands of ignorance too. Yet somehow I do manage to add some Witt to my writing, sometimes my motto is “if I don’t laugh I’ll go crazy” but this isn’t the same is it! I’ve tried to look at what Russell Howard said and see some light hearted banter in it, sadly I can’t… It was just a horrid uncaring thing to say.

I think this show was a repeat from months back as the YouTube comments Stretch back for over months! Therefore maybe this is something of old news to you? Nonetheless, the comments are still being added to YouTube, some in support of the autism community, others just to comment on how funny they found it…

“Russell Howard is my role model. I use his jokes and my friends don’t stop laughing. If I saw Russell Howard in real life… id thank him for his work.” MrTheRUNESCAPER 8 months ago 3 Comment taken from Youtube

The above comment worries me, as does many others. No wonder its often a struggle to get our children through school without finding themselves the victims of bullies.

Please BBC, be more careful with the message your sending and Russell… You’re just not funny!

Lollibop – The Festival Just For Kids

27 Aug

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The Lollibop Festival is a magnificent 3-day event that is the only one of its kind!

What’s different about this festival from all others, is that it’s solely dedicated to the the little boppers of today (AKA the kids)! This basically means that if you’re between the ages of 0-10 years, then you’re gonna love it! Lollibop is Located within “Regents Park” one of London’s Royal Parks that also plays host to the Famous London Zoo! Lollibop is a child’s paradise, it’s been filled with magic, the type that creates long lasting magical memories for kids big and small

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We decided to check it out on the Saturday which is day 2 of this exciting 3 day event. I took the toddler and my daughter Alice-Sara wheres Little man enjoyed a days gardening with his dad instead. His that bit to old for Lollibop and given he knows this and likes to stick to the “Rules” he protested from the onset.

My sister also came along with my 2-year-old niece Amy. It’s nice when Harley gets to spend time with his cousin as they are both so close in age with just a mere 10 weeks between them. They’re great company for one another even if they do get into a little mischief every now and then!

The days plan basically consisted of leaving early to ensure our arrival at the Lollibop festival for when it opened! However, this simple plan was shattered when I was left running around like a headless chicken looking for odds and ends that I needed to take with me all while the toddler indulged in huge paddy thrashing around on the floor by my feet.

Then just when I thought nothing else could possibly go wrong Little man starts having a meltdown over his brother touching his things. I couldn’t just leave his dad dealing with it all, So in the end I didn’t actually get going till the afternoon! Thankfully South east London isn’t Wales so travelling didn’t prove to be much of a problem, even if we did have pushchairs on the not so child friendly London Underground!

This was our second year attending this festival which was now in its third year. Last year myself and sister just took the toddlers and despite there being one or two little things that needed a little ironing out, it was fantastic, which explains the reason why we were looking forward to discovering just what they had planed this time around.

It was over 90 degree heat that hit London that Saturday and the walk from the station to The Lollibop itself was anything but jolly! Last year the festival was set up in an area of the park that was much closer to the Regents Park entrance.This year however, it was being held much further within the parks grounds.This meant that regardless of the station you arrived at, you were still in for one hell of a walk as the nearest station to the Lollibop is at least 15 minutes walk away. At a guess I’d say that the move may have had something to do with the Olympics because when walking past last years plot I noticed it was occupied by a couple of Olympic mascots alongside hundreds of tourist snapping away at their cameras.

After a long walk through the park in what can only be described as deadly uncomfortable heat, we finally reached destination Lollibop! As expected there was no queuing to be done, what with it being the afternoon we strolled in no problem. Once inside I noticed how this years event was much larger than that of the previous one. Everywhere you turned something magical was taking place! There was clean toilets stocked with tissue at every corner of the park, plus dedicated areas to park up and leave your buggy. The area had been well decorated transforming this park space into a brightly coloured magical children’s kingdom. Large coloured flags hung from tall white beams that had been hoisted up high into the blue skies above, while pretty Bunton was draped around pretty tents, stalls and stands. All around us were hundreds of bubbles big and small floating through the air, it was magical!

As we arrived it was the sounds of the ZingZillas singing that greeted us as it roared out from the live stage that was located right in the centre of everything else making it easily accessible for all.The rest of the festival was divided into numerous different areas each hosting different shows, workshops and more. This therefore made things much easier to find.

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One of the great things about Lollibop is that once you have brought your ticket all the days activities are free (with the exception of food, drink and gifts).This includes all those important little things that kids just love, such as face painting and the opportunity to get themselves a child friendly air sprayed tattoo… Plus loads more besides.

Note: Queues for things such as face painting can become quite lengthy due to it’s popularity so be warned and get inline as early as you possibly can!

Lollibop, had organised some magical entertainment this year. Roald Dahl story telling, Horrible Histories, The science museum and that of the Skylanders area were particularly great for the older children and these seemed to be popular for the duration of the day.

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The organisers behind Lollibop had done a great job to ensure there was enough activities and workshops to keep everyone entertained. There was so much on offer and we felt quite honestly spoilt for choice. One of the first things we did was check out the Halfords riding tent where children were invited to jump on a bike or grab themselves a micro scooter to try. Next up we headed of to see Mister Maker which provided us with the perfect excuse to sit in the shade and cool down for a bit. Mister Maker did an awesome job at entertaining the children. The show last around 20 minutes and within this time he did some quick and easy crafting demonstrations while getting the kids up on their feet and participating in the fun by encouraging them to make various miming actions like pretending to paint, mixing a pot of glue or cutting out shapes. In all honesty, I think the toddlers were quite star struck as their expressions went from that of wide eyed and open mouth to twinkling eyes and giant smiles as they were overcome with excitement.

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Other guest that had Harley jumping up and down for joy was that of the Moshi Monsters who at one point he refused to leave. The Moshlings had also brought along their huge double decker tour bus that doubles up as a Moshi Monsters Discount shop therefore selling everything Moshi monster at cheaper prices. Nonetheless, this did pose a problem for some, especially when kids both big and small could be seen throwing themselves to the ground howling the words “I want, I want!” as their helpless parents stood red faced and close to a mental breakdown.

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This year there was an endless array of crafts and activities on offer. The 3ft and under area was particularly good for little ones with its extra security and fenced of location. WOW toys (one of Harley’s favourite brand of toy) had a great tent that was full of WOW toys for the children to play with while parents were offered the opportunity to grab a beanbag in the shade. I don’t doubt Harley recognised the WOW area from last year when I had no choice but to carry him out kicking and screaming when it was time to move on. This year both Harley and Amy had loads of fun getting to grips with the many different WOW toys on offer and thankfully didn’t do a repeat of last year when it was time to leave.

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This years Lollibop was home to many different children’s tv characters and Harley loved getting to see them all. We even run into the super cute Haribo teddy as he walked around the area handing out sweets to anyone who came his way. We then meet the one and only Titan the Robot and this for me has to be the highlight of the day. This clever futuristic robot was everything you would expect from a robot and more. There was never anything this brilliant when I was a kid! All we got was my dad dressed head to toe in cardboard boxes with bottle tops stuck all over him. Titan was absolutely massive and would have made my 6ft odd brother look a midget. He was also kinda humorous as he let out some very comical one liners. As for my my daughter, she couldn’t get enough of him and therefore ended up chasing him around the park taking numerous pictures for her very own blog

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The live stage offered a wealth of entertainment With a number of great acts such as Mr men and ZingZillas taking to the stage. It was having CBeebies presenter Alex alongside the lovely Katie from the CBeebies show” I can Cook” that really worked up the crowd resulting in a sea of families smiling and dancing till the end.

Alice-Sara was also pleased to see Dick and Dom do their thing up on the main stage, and eagerly participated with all the games that were played.

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Of course We were never going to fit everything in given we had missed out on the mornings goings on, but we still manage to squeeze in a reasonable amount. We finished a great afternoon by way of chilling out on a couple of toadstools over at the enchanted forest where we all enjoyed story time with the loveable Waybloo.

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So, there you have it! The Lollibop was a success. It was bigger and better than the last, a day that I’m sure both myself and the children will remember forever more. With this do you really need to ask the question… “would you recommend the lollibop festival to others ?” My answer… Hell Yer!

If you missed out on the Lollibop this summer then check out the Lollibop Mini Disco due to kick off this October half term (2012) at Ministry of Sound London. You can grab Earlybird tickets for just a tenner per person. Check the Lollibop website that has all the information you need.

Lastly I’ve made a little list of tips you may want to consider if attending the Lollibop Festival in 2013. I’ve also included information relating to the Lollibop’s Disability Access Policy and how these services were provided this year (2012).

Things to consider if visiting the Lollibop:

Arrive early to avoid long queues at the face painting stand.

Check the whether forecast and ensure you pack appropriate supplies for the day. The Lollibop is a festival that takes place during the summer month of August so you stand a good chance of sunshine. Bottled water, plenty of sun protection and sun hats for all are therefore essential. I’d personally advise that you also pop in your bag a suitable lightweight waterproof jacket & some wellies! After all this is London we’re talking about.

Food isn’t cheap but is reasonably priced in comparison to other festivals.

Gifts are reasonably priced with Helium balloons costing around £5.

If the Festival remains in the same area of the park next year you will need to remember that this is a fair walk from the nearest tube station which is Camden town.

Toilet facilities are good so please, there is no need to bring your own
loo roll.

You can check out all the latest updates over on the Lollibop Facebook Page or if twitter is more your thing you can also find them there too!

Autism & Disability Friendly?

Little man didn’t come along but I did check out the Website earlier on in the year on what accommodations would be made for those with disabilities. I also tried my best to follow this up on the day.

Gaining Access To Disabled Facilities: In-order to fully access the disabled facilities a form had to be downloaded, completed and emailed back to the lollibop team. A photocopy of DLA letter or similar must be forwarded to the the Lollibop team with application. This is a good idea in many respects as it allows organisers a way of ensuring disabled peoples needs are fully met. This system also stops people abusing the facilities provided. However this also means you need your forms submitted pretty quickly normally within a few weeks of purchasing your tickets. The final date for submitting a form this year was the 6th of August meaning those with disabilities, would not be able to enjoy spontaneity and would not be able to access the disabled facilities if turning up and buying a ticket on the day.

The Facilities on offer:
LolliBop provides facilities to those with disabilities within that of its own dedicated area “The Arena” A free carer/PA ticket where required can also be provided to ensure the day is both enjoyable and comfortable for those with disabilities. Note: Carer/PA tickets need to be applied for using the form discussed above.

A viewing platform is available at the LolliBop Live Stage so all can enjoy the performances on offer. As great as this seems Lollibop do have a strict one plus one policy (disabled customer + their carer/PA) and its noted that Carer/PA’s may be asked to leave the platform when it is busy to avoid overcrowding. Note the above isn’t great for the single mum with an autistic child and 2 siblings in tow. The parent/carer would struggle if they were unable to leave the two smaller children to be of assistance to the child on the spectrum. A child like mine would be overly anxious to leave their mothers side. However, I do understand why the Lollibop are imposing these rule and I’m unsure If accommodations can be made in these situations as they may well have been this year.

General Notes: All disabled customers are welcome at Regent’s Park, but as it is a greenfield site there are sections of the arena that have uneven ground meaning that sometimes, access is difficult. Lollibop do note that stewards however, will be around to assist those having any difficulties.

I’ve been advised by a mother of a child with disabilities, that the toilet facilities were of a great standard.

Disabled Parking is allocated to the Blue badge holder on a first come first serve basis.

Lollibop Say… We will provide access to the viewing platform for all customers that need use of this facility. This includes, though not exclusively, wheelchair users, customers who are unable to stand for long periods, customers unable to be in large crowds and customers with invisible disabilities.

The music was quite loud as one would expect. However we discovered that ear defenders were on Sale at the official merchandise stall and these were really fairly priced. Despite Little man not attending we brought some ear defenders for Harley as his quite sensitive to loud noise/music.

Upcoming Competition

What’s more I decided to buy an extra set of children’s ear defenders to offer on my blog as a prize. These are great for any child attending a festival but are used a great deal on a daily basis for the child with SPD or ASD. The ear defenders along with a few other pieces will ran as a competition tomorrow.

SPECIAL FREE SCHOOLS – ARE THEY WORTH IT?

30 Jun

I recently attended the “New Schools Forum” to gain some information about the setting up of Special Free Schools and to write what I had learnt into a report for the blog “Special Needs Jungle

Below you can find out just what I learnt from the forum!

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Is it worth the hassle (a 100+ page bid and one hell of a load of work) that comes with starting a Special Free School!

Well, there are many factors needing careful consideration as well as a number of different circumstances each need applying to. For example, Is the School already up and running, therefore requiring just “Free School” Status? This could apply to any school (independent & non-maintained) this excludes that of state schools who can instead apply to become Academies.
Maybe you are considering starting up a Special Free School from scratch. It may only exisit on paper or an idea in your head. Maybe its because there is a gap in SEN provision that needs filling, therefore an idea of a Special Free school makes sense.

So, as not to confuse anybody (as we all know these things can be mind boggling) I’ll therefore take this one step at a time and will try to be as clear as possible.

Firstly, What is a Special Free School?

A Special Free School is one that is funded by the Government yet run independently. So, you may ask how these are any different from independent schools? Independent schools are not reliant on the government for funding, instead these schools are funded by a combination of tuition fees, gifts, fundraising or in some cases income investments (for profit organisations). Non-maintained schools are normally ran by Not for profit charities approved by the secretary of state to take children with statements of SEN.

SO, What must a Special Free School Provide & how must it be run?

Provide education for children assessed as needing statements of SEN between the ages of 5-19 years of age.

Provide education to a minimum of 5 children

Only teach children with SEN or those being assessed as having SEN

Have Regard to the SEN Code of practice

Provide a curriculum that is one tailored to an individuals needs

Ran by an acedemy trust (Charitable trust/not for profit)

Admissions to Special Free Schools will continue to be made via the LEA who retain responsibility for assessing a childs SEN

Important factors…

Applications must only be made by those schools that are new (meaning ones not already funded by the state as already mentioned above)!

So… Who can set up a Special Free School?

Well, I should really rephrase the above question to, “Who can apply to set up a Special Free School?” Because the answer is just about anybody can, but this doesn’t mean to say your application will be approved!

This isn’t just a case of knowing that their is a gap in SEN provision (though it helps) groups of parents, charity groups ect… will struggle unless they have a member of their group who has strong knowledge of the education system (basically how to run a school on a senior level)! Head teachers and board of governors make a good starting block. From what I have heard, many parent groups have formed wanting to start Special Free Schools but due to their lack of knowledge on the running of a school (including costs) they have therefore fell at the first hurdle. This isn’t just a case of coming together, forming a group and filling in an application… No, it’s a lot more long winded than that.

Parents/groups/charity groups looking to apply to open Special Free Schools need to do there homework and should realise this isn’t the only option (setting up fully independent schools may be a better, if not slightly easier process). If wanting to apply to set up a Special Free School, groups should appoint a director(s) and as mentioned, preferably someone who has some inside senior knowledge on the running of a school and importantly the likely cost that come with it.

Writing the bid is also a far from easy task, this normally exceeds a 100 pages and no stone should be left unturned! Only then is there a chance you will make it to the “Interview Stage” The Governement has set up the New Schools Network which is there to help groups throughout the process and should really be your first port of call.
Understandably, given the state of the SEN system at present (the fact that there just isn’t enough special schools in most areas and the gaps in provision is huge) many groups, especially those consisting of parents of children diagnosed with SEN, will be looking into Special Free Schools. However, I feel that when looking more closely, they may well discover things are much more complicated then identifying the need for a school, finding a site and opening one! I’m not stating that people assume its easy, just it seems much harder than I first thought, plus it may not be all its cracked up to be (just read on to see where I’m going with this)!

So, what about that of already set up independent schools? Is it beneficial for those groups of applicants? It sounds so considering these will continue to be ran independently yet receive state funding to do so! What’s the catch? Of course like everything there is one!

Firstly I should start by stating that special schools that are already setup and established will not be provided with the “Start up funding” However, it should be noted that there are some exceptions, these being special circumstances such as expanding there pupil capacity but there is still no guarantees.

The next big factor is that of admissions. Once Special Free School status is granted to those independent schools, the LEA will have the right to make them take children with varying needs, ones the school claims not to cater for. Therefore this technically means that independent schools that for example only provide education for children on the autism spectrum, will maybe be made to take children with other needs, social emotional, more complexed SEN or varying disabilities. Actually for me this is a massive issue, one that would make me consider such a change much more carefully if I was making such a decision about an independent school.

My son is in an independent special school just for children with autism and aspergers. Its a school who teach in small groups and have quite high pupil to teacher ratios. I would honestly worry if it was to convert to that of Special Free School status. I’m not being selfish, I just feel that by admitting children outside this status of SEN may result in all children not having their needs met, not mentioning the school becoming over capacitated.
I also slightly worry that dependent on how many independent schools within my postcode convert to Special Free School Status, the local LEA may try to move my child in order to save money (his at an independent out of borough school).

So… with the bad points out of the way, is there any good ones! The only ones I can actually think of is that of the reduction in tribunal cases. It’s quite simple really… Independent special schools convert to Special free school then the number of parents bringing cases to the SEN tribunal will fall. LEA’s will be much more willing to now send a child to the school as it wont be charging the independent fees it once did. This would also mean that more children would possibly be educated within their borough. For me, neither outweigh the issue of admissions (this for me just creates worry).

Whoever you are, if a Special free school is something you are seriously considering their are important issues to consider. One of the biggest is that of the pending Green paper. I ask you, with SEN provision still up in the air, is now the right time to be making such huge decisions? The Green Paper will mean a complete SEN overhaul. This includes the scraping of the SEN Statement with the “Education, Health and social care plan” taking its place. Other factors include everything from the way a child with SEN is assessed, the funding a school will receive and the possibility of a personal budget. We don’t even know what the new education heath and social care plan will even look like and if the social care part will hold any legal and statutory duty whatsoever.

Can’t this government do one thing at a time, it makes no sense to me to open Special Free schools when the way such children are provided for remains so unclear.

OK… So heres the nitty gritty on the issue of Special Free School funding
Now, there is no set capital (not that anybodies letting on) this is therefore allocated on a project for project basis. The secretary of state must take into account the estimated or “potential” costs of each individual groups bid. As already stated there is no start up funding for existing schools, only new schools (special circumstances will be given consideration)!

Do your homework, this is a government funded scheme which will mean that they want to see low costs and good value for money!
Remember, the government is still consulting on long term funding for special schools. As it stands the interim funding arrangements put in place is to receive base funding level funding of 10k per place (note there may be additional funding from some LEAs dependent on an individual’s needs (SEN statement)! Well, lets be honest, 10k isn’t much, especially for a child with complex needs who requires a number of provisions put in place like SALT and OT given on a high level.

Lastly, special free schools like other free schools should receive a bog standard grant to compensate for services that state maintained schools recive from the LA.

If considering a Special Free School, remember these only cater for children aged 5-19. This is regardless of the pending education, health and social care plan which covers children aged 0-25! This therefore gives a clear indication that before the age of 5 and after the age of 19, it may well only be the social care side which applys (here’s hoping that has some type of statutory duty attached or otherwise what’s actually different)?

So, there you have it! I hope I didn’t confuse you!

Thanks to Tania (special needs jungle) for asking me to attend the New Schools Network forum which enabled me to write this report
Please visit the New Schools Network for detailed information and advice on Special Free Schools and Free Schools

Help a child with Autism communicate with the world they live in

3 Jun

So, I was on twitter recently (nothing new there I know) when I came across a very interesting tweet from one of my new followers.

The tweet in question contained a link to a very interesting website and article focused around a campaign that is aiming to help children with autism by providing them with a way to communicate with the world they live in! Here’s how.

With your help a child with autism can be given the tools needed to better communicate their needs, making the world a much easier place for them to live in.

The charity making this happen is “Hearts & Minds Challenge

They don’t need you to give funds, they don’t want your money, all they need is your old mobile phones, even those that are no longer working!

Here’s what the charity had to say!

Once upon a time, a mobile phone was a status symbol, a way to tell the world that you were so important that people had to be able to reach you all the time. Nowadays a mobile is a necessity, but we still like to have the latest model with features that can improve our daily life.

Now; when you want to trade up your old phone, you could be helping someone with Autism to communicate their basic needs and for the first time, truly express what they want. And the phone doesn’t even have to be working to help….

Autism is a developmental disability which typically affects social interaction, imagination and the ability to communicate. Half of all people diagnosed will have severely delayed speech and as a result, can become frustrated, leading to behavioral challenges and social exclusion.

In the past, these individuals could be taught to use picture exchange communication or “pecs” a system of handing over a picture to request an item. Thus replacing that negative behaviour with a vocabulary of different pictures, all of which have a huge value to the individual. They are prompted to try to say each word and can slowly learn to speak independently with the picture system as support.

However, at least a 1/4 of all people diagnosed with Autism will have to use an alternative communication system for life, which can become very unwieldy as their vocabulary grows.
They must also rely on carers and therapists to update and maintain the system, so they never have independent control of what they want to say.

There are electronic picture devices, but the vocabulary is static, the devices bulky and expensive and the individual cannot express exactly what they want.

However, thanks to the development of a simple App, which recreates the picture system in a digital format, so called ‘non-verbal’ people can communicate exactly what they want on an Apple iPod or iPad. The Grace App, named after the little girl who inspired it is a basic picture vocabulary in a digital format which the user selects then shares to communicate what they want. Most importantly, they can actually add to their pictures themselves using the device camera, or google and save an image if they cannot find and photograph what they need.

Lisa, who created the Grace App says:
“Just because someone is not yet talking, it doesn’t mean they have nothing to say”

Lisa said the App has allowed Grace to express herself clearly and her frustration and tantrums, which could last for hours are now vastly reduced.
“Grace is also interacting with us a lot more, and I’m delighted to hear her using her own voice, as her speech continues to improve”

There are a lot of families that could benefit from trying out Grace or one of the many Apps developed to support the needs of people with autism – but they need the device to use it. This is a big commitment for a family who may have limited means, and a lot of demands on their income due to the pressures of raising a child with Autism.

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Hearts and Minds are a charity with a mission to raise the quality of life of individuals with autism have come up with a scheme to turn old mobiles into new technology like the Apple iPad, while raising funds towards opening an Education Centre For Autism in Greater Manchester.

To help: Go through your drawers and cupboards and clear out all those old mobiles that are taking up space, contact the school and donate those devices in the envelopes provided. Not only will you be giving a child with autism the chance to communicate, but you will go into a draw to get your mortgage paid for a year – who wouldn’t like that?

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Once I read the above I just had to write this post and share this great campaign with my readers.

I also found a great video on the Hearts and Minds website that really does share a strong message with the world on what a difference we can make by donating our old mobile phones. The video shows a selected number of children with autism using their iPad at home or in school. Attached is a message from the families of these children who state what a remarkable difference the iPad has made to their child’s life.

Warning… The video is a real tear jerker! I sobbed all over my iPhone!

I was actually about to write a sponsored post for a company that specialises in recycling mobile phones, saving the environment and making us a bit of extra cash in the process. Then I read about ‘Hearts and Minds’ who are not only saving the planet but helping a child with autism to communicate. Of course it’s Ok to recycle your mobile for cash, especially if you have little… We all need some extra pennies sometimes. But remember this charity are happy to take any mobile phone, regardless of the state it’s in… Broken, old, “a brick” it really doesn’t matter!

Thankfully my son is verbal and actually speaks very well! However he does have an array of communication difficulties and even for him such technology is a godsend. Little man attends a special school and as part of an OT programme he is now learning to touch type, his fine motor skills are very poor and his handwriting hardly legible. An iPad is on the Birthday list and it’s something I’d purchase with the knowledge of knowing that for little man it’s so much more than a fancy handheld tablet.

I hope that others will read this and next time they open a draw to discover an old dusty mobile they remember this post and therefore remember that for a child with autism that dusty mobile is a door that opens into a world of communication!

Remember families and schools wanting to register for the programme can do so over on the hearts and minds website

For more information on the programme visit Grace App or Hearts and Minds to see if you can help give a child with autism a way to communicate.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored or guest post. I have not been asked to write this and have not received anything for sharing this information. I have done so as a way to help a charity on their mission to help others.

Chocolate Cake = Independence

16 May

Little man came home from school today carrying a smile on his face and this very yummy craftsmanship of his.

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Now little man is 11 years old and attends a day special school for children with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome, it’s this school who have converted my son into a budding master chef who’s destining for the championships of any cook off.

Now it’s not just the cake his brought home. Over the last school year his brought home an array of taste bud tickling delights.

His gone from baking scones to quiche, curry and more. This whole double chocolate cake has to be one of my favourites… Its dangerously yummy and really does taste as good as it looks

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Seriously, I’m no cake baker, I will shamefully admit with head hung low, that my baking skills are not great! Little mans are however far greater and I’m bursting with pride as a result!

But this isn’t just about cooking and baking! No, for children like my Little man it’s much more than this! It’s independence something his special school are teaching very early on to enable the children they teach, a good chance of succeeding in the quest to become a fully fringed independent young adult.

As well as cooking up a storm the children also take weekly trips to the supermarket in order to purchase the essential ingredients for their culinary delights.

As a mother of a child with Asperger’s syndrome I believe that learning the skills to become fully independent is just as important as learning the skills of literacy and mathematics. Most will take it for granted that their children will be fine in the big wide world, this is something I never do.

For this I am extremely grateful to my son’s school for teaching him such a needed skill!

I’m also immensely grateful for them teaching him how to bake such a deliciously, chocolatey, yummy scrummy cake…. Amen!!!

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#HAWMC Day 30 – Autism Cloud

6 May

For the final #HAWMC we were asked to create a word cloud for our health focus. We were directed to a site that would create a personalised cloud for the words that we feed it, but I decided that I wanted to share a few clouds that I’d already created in the past.

So, without delay here they are

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Thanks to everyone who followed my post on this awesome 30 day challenge (I’ve really enjoyed it)
All 30 challenges have been set by Wego Health

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