The last time I attended the show was 2014. Before that, I had been going regularly for a few years and had probably attended every year from 2010 or 2011. When you go to a show in the same venue every year, it gets to be a bit like visiting your regular supermarket, you know where certain stands will be, where the seminar rooms are, the best time to get served quickly and find a seat in the café, even the loo with the shortest queues… The upside is that you can be very efficient and check out exactly what you’re interested in pretty quickly. The downside is that you can get rather blasé about what’s on offer and risk missing some new innovation, a gem that might transform some aspect of your teaching or a student’s learning.
So, after a two-year hiatus, I was eager to explore the exhibition centre fully, and really make the most of my trip to London.
One benefit of catching a ridiculously early (cheaper) train, was that I arrived in Islington in plenty of time to attend the National Autistic Society’s MyWorld Teachers’ Networking breakfast. MyWorld is a great resource for teachers to find autism-related information online.
We heard from Tim Nicholls, who addressed the question of how well the education system in England works for children on the autism spectrum, reporting on the findings of the parliamentary enquiry into autism and education. The full report and recommendations are due to be published early in November, with a practical guide and resources for teachers to follow.
Next up was Gianna Colizza who talked about autism and anxiety in the classroom. It was a really inspiring talk from an educator who believes, as I do, that inclusion and reasonable adjustments are just common sense (I’d say common human decency, too). I’m compelled to share two quotes:
They are the children, we are the adults.
We must remember that all behaviour is a form of communication. Stimming or repetitive behaviours may indicate that something is causing upset or concern. Often, a small change that is out of reach for the student but within the contol of the teacher, can prevent the extremes of shut down or melt down.
Children have one childhood. They need to spend it with other children.
Many of us who have worked in schools will have experienced this. That one child for whom the classroom is considered just too much. They may end up in the corridor working with a TA, or missing break times to catch up or make up for some perceived misdemeanour. This is not the answer. There are so many great resources and training opportunities nowadays that I honestly believe EVERY teacher in EVERY school can be autism aware. If your school isn’t already in touch with them, do check out the Autism Education Trust and ASD info Wales for this.
The event closed with an “Ask the experts” panel which I’ve summarised as:
I was pleased to meet other teachers, an education coordinator for the Museum of London (they offer regular autism-friendly openings), parents and a researcher to whose doctoral research into social stories I contributed in some small way (I know from personal experience how precious each response is!).
That done, I dashed to the conference centre to meet up with ex-colleagues from my days teaching in London. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear that every classroom at school now has a sensory corner.
I always find it hard to decide when presented with a choice of speakers. After much deliberation I had signed up to watch and listen to Wendy Lee presenting on Supporting children with social interaction needs in primary schools. Anyone who has worked with me or read my blogs will know that this is a passion of mine. What was interesting and new for me was to hear the ideas from an experienced speech and language therapist’s perspective. I loved her regard for other professionals, crediting the Communication Trust‘s What Works, Lynn McCann and Alis Rowe.
The other presentation I had booked was Tricia Murphy: Transition for those with cognition and learning difficulties. It was geared towards school-based teachers preparing for inspection, but I wanted to hear what she had to say, because this is very significant to me as an assessor when making recommendations for my students regarding transition between classrooms, subjects, key stages and transition to senior school, further education or university. I know what I would like to insist upon, and it was reassuring to know that she believes these are indisputable rights and necessities. Of course, we’d all prefer it if no-one had to make these claims, but It’s good to know that we are on the same page.
I was really hoping to catch Professor Amanda Kirby’s workshop: What is the relationship of nutrition / diet / supplementation in managing behaviour in ADHD? Amanda Kirby comes at specific learning difficulties as a parent, medical professional and academic, with decades of research and practical experience, so it’s always interesting to hear her take on how we can adapt the environment to improve outcomes for young people. Unfortunately, promises I’d made to friends regarding resources, and the rare opportunity to catch up with people face to face (coupled with time constraints brought on by my ‘cheap’ train ticket) meant that I was not able to hear Amanda speak on this occasion, but I heartily recommend her If you ever have the chance. I count myself extremely fortunate to have heard her speak before, and to have had the support of the team at the brilliant Dyscovery Centre during my research. I’m not sure whether I was more reassured or bereft when Tricia recommended her during her talk. Do check out the Do It Profiler and the Box of Ideas if you work with adults and young people at risk of SpLD.
It was a busy day, and well worth going. The entrance ticket is free for both days, as are the exhibitor workshops. Entrance to seminars is by paid ticket, but there’s usually a discounted rate if you book early (usually before the end of the summer term, so keep your eyes peeled). I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.