As ongoing supporters of the National Autistic Society, Axcis were proud to again be the headline sponsor of this years Professional Conference. We also sponsored an Autism Professionals Award. Find out who won as well as what else made this years event a great one!
Day 1 of the conference opened with Mark Lever (NAS CEO) talking about the many fantastic initiatives the charity has undertaken in the last year. 14,000 teachers have now signed up to their “My World” campaign, autism is set to become part of initial teacher training and their work on the APPGA enquiry has been invaluable. Along with many other initiatives, this means that autism is now recognised and understood by more people than ever before. Good work, guys!
Keynote speaker Owen Suskind and his mum, Cornelia followed, giving an emotive talk about their film “Life, Animated” and how it came about. Owen was diagnosed with autism as a young child, and when he lost all verbal ability, the family discovered that he could communicate with the help of Disney films. It’s a wonderful and moving story – if you are not familiar with their work, you can find out more here.
The day then broke into 4 streams. This allowed delegates to focus on their area of interest. I sat in on a range of talks and also had the lovely autism specialist Lynn McCann helping out with our Twitter commentary of the event. – you can look back over it using #profconf if you’d like to read more highlights. The presentations were varied and interesting, with subjects such as “The importance of emotional wellbeing in autistic students“, “Supporting Parents with their child’s sleep difficulties” and “Recognising and treating anxiety in autistic children and adults” among the topics that were discussed.
In the afternoon, Emily Lovegrove (AKA: The Bullying Doctor) gave a fascinating and interactive presentation on “Helping autistic children and adults to successfully cope with bullying“. I didn’t expect to find myself on stage, but I was happy to help out with a practical demonstration!
For us, day one ended with a live Twitter Chat with Lynn McCann, organised by our friends at Network Autism. It was an action-packed hour with loads of questions and some excellent, practical advice from Lynn. Take a look at the #autismedchat on Twitter if you’d like to find out more.
The Axcis Teddybear Picnic and Twitter Competition
While all these fascinating talks were going on, Mat and Cassie from Axcis were busy in the exhibition area talking to delegates about the service we offer. As specialist special needs recruiters, Axcis are very well placed to support schools and alternative provisions when they need to find SEND teachers and support staff.
During the conference, we also ran a Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Delegates had to find the six Axcis Andy bears hidden around the venue. Each was holding an item of picnic food. Delegates simply had to write down all 6 food items and hand in an entry form for a chance to win a £50 shopping voucher. There was a bonus voucher on offer for one lucky Twitter user – any comments with an @Axcis in them went into a
prize draw which took place after the conference ended.
The Autism Professionals Awards
On the evening of day 1 was the Autism Professionals Awards. Each year, the National Autistic Society hold this awards ceremony to celebrate the hard work and achievements of those working with people on the autism spectrum. Among the awards was the one we sponsor – the Axcis Award for Achievement by an Individual Education Professional. The winner was Adele Beeson from Spectrum First Ltd. Adele started her career as a primary teacher with an interest in special educational needs. With the diagnosis of her son she became interested in autism and retrained as an autism professional. She has since supported autistic people across the full age-range in a variety of settings. Adele now works as a Specialist Study Skills Tutor for Spectrum First Ltd, supporting university students to achieve their full potential. Her special interest within the field is sensory processing and she has been working with her students to develop a sensory curriculum as an awareness-building tool. She has recently led staff training in sensory processing. Adele was diagnosed with autism and ADHD while studying for the MA Autism Spectrum which she completed in 2017.
Day 2 began with some excellent breakfast seminars – I sat in on “The Impact of stigma surrounding autism in ethnic communities in the UK?” This was followed by the keynote address from Michelle Garcia Winner, Founder and CEO of Social Thinking. She gave a fascinating presentation entitled “Social Thinking: developing social competencies to help people better interpret and respond to the social world.” This talk really got us thinking about how social understanding is taken for granted by so many of us, and what a minefield it can be for individuals on the autism spectrum.
There were plenty of other fascinating talks, workshops and poster sessions throughout day 2 of the conference. One of my favourites was “Use of technology with children with severe communication impairments and challenging behaviour“, held by Dr Penny Williams. It was interesting to hear about some of the examples and case studies she has encountered as part of her research. One such example was a non-verbal young girl with autism and complex needs who would become so frustrated with her lack of ability to communicate verbally that she would lash out at her teachers and support staff in school, often hitting, biting, kicking etc. After they introduced an iPad with a visual communication programme on it, her behaviour was said to have improved by about 95%. What a fantastic example of how such devices can be put to good use!
A long journey home from Harrogate ended the conference for me, and although I was very tired, I came away feeling that I had learned a lot, met some lovely people and had plenty of ideas to share with my peers – a feeling which I am sure was shared by many of the other attendees to this years Autism Professionals Conference!