The fourth – and biggest – speaker event of support group Parents Talking Asperger’s was held at Swalcliffe Park School near Banbury last Thursday and welcomed 140 delegates comprising parents and professionals spanning education, youth work, healthcare and business.
The group’s founder and principal, Karen Irvani, opened the event by welcoming everyone and shared the the story of how she came to found the group in March 2012 while raising her now 14-year-old son Reza, whose Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism went undiagnosed for many years. Starting as a Facebook page, Parents Talking Asperger’s now has a virtual community of almost 400 people with 60 families meeting every other Thursday for Fun Nights at it’s headquarters at The Baptist Centre in Middleton Cheney.
The first guest speakers of the evening were two young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome: Michael Reynolds, aged 18 and Ella Popplewell 17, who were the undisputed stars of the evening. Michael, a Swalcliffe ‘old boy’ finished his learning at the school after mainstream education turned out to be unsuitable. He achieved great results and today is studying Maths, Physics and further maths at A-level, before taking up his place at Southampton University to study Astro Physics.
Ella, currently in the sixth form of Banbury Academy and doing well academically, spent most of her schooling at mainstream and spent the final years of her secondary education at Woodeaton Special School where she became Head Girl. Both speeches touched the audience deeply and many eyes were shining bright with teary emotion.
Another Swalcliffe old boy Tom Ostrowski had been due to speak but his exam workload meant that he couldn’t do both. Former Principal of Swalcliffe and autism trainer Gareth Lewis who had worked closely with Tom, said he was privileged to speak on his behalf.
Next on stage was Kiran Hingorani, Principal of Swalcliffe Park School, the venue for the evening. His presentation took the audience on an interesting time-travelling mission back to their childhoods, rather amusingly inviting them to remember Dr Who characters of years gone by. It was a great opening to the evening. Kiran then passed the presentation clicker over to Nicci Paine, an Occupational Therapist for Leap Children’s Therapy with a Master’s in Autism.
Nicci gave a fascinating insight to sensory overload, more commonly known as “meltdown” in autism circles. Her presentation included an overview of our senses, an understanding of sensory overload and sensory modulation (the ability for our central nervous system to adapt to incoming sensory information) and generated a lot of enthusiasm to find out more from both attending parents and professionals.
After an exciting first half, there was an interval where delegates mingled and enjoyed a magnificent buffet laid on by Swalcliffe’s chef Kirk and his team which also included some Swalcliffe boys.
The second half of the event opened with Rob Edmonds-Seal, Day Opportunities Director of supported living charity, Style Acre, a charity which is developing a day centre in Banbury which will operate a café book shop on the ground floor, with seven supported living apartments on the upper floor. Rob shared some of the opportunities that would be available particularly for young people on the Autistic Spectrum, which ranged from skills training, work experience and job placements.
Karen Irvani closed the evening by thanking everyone for attending and inviting everyone to applaud young speakers Ella and Michael for their inspirational contributions. She concluded, “The purpose of this evening has to been to understand the training, working and living opportunities which may be available in our community; so that our children of today become confident, caring and contributing young adults of tomorrow.”