Sunday, 16 July 2017

Harrogate Branch NAS Conference 2017

It's been a while since I've written anything, having two boys at home is a little time consuming and overwhelming, which has meant a bit of a knock to my mental health and a need for various strategies to manage things (including a solo weekend away - ice cream, crisps and prosecco in bed for tea - highly recommend it!). This has also led to me deactivating Facebook for the time being and abandoning other projects to make head space for family life.

A couple of days ago I attended the Harrogate branch NAS conference, which also marked the tenth anniversary of the branch.

The event took place in a local school which easily accommodated various stall holders, speakers and attendees, and was very well organised.

Proceedings started with a brief talk from Mark Lever, CEO of the NAS, who explained some of the campaigns that are currently running, and some of the ins and outs of the finances of the charity. It was good to see him attend a local event. During the morning break he left his belongings on my briefly unattended seat, which set off a near panic attack, tears and very nearly an early exit for me, so he has a slight black mark against him for that 😂, apart from that he seemed alright.

Following his talk, we then heard from the Autism Strategy Manager for Tees Esk and Wear Valley NHS trust. Later in the day we also heard from local representatives from chilren's and adult's autism services. I'm going to talk briefly about both of these together.
I am perhaps not the best person to speak about these, as I can be very opinionated about the role of certain professionals within the public sector, most probably because we didn't have very positive experiences to go by (although my own diagnosis through adult services out of area was very efficient and positive). I found these particular talks quite frustrating, as the emphasis was very much on how good the services are, and the content self-congratulating, which I find galling when so many people's experiences through using these services can be distressing. I get the impression though that they think the services they offer are very good and have a big impact locally, but this certainly goes against anecdotal reports from many service users.
I would prefer an approach that goes something like "We have received xyz feedback, and we realise that improvement is needed, so this is what we plan to do, please continue letting us know what needs to happen, and what we're getting right". I would also be interested in hearing more about their training course content, as going by experience, even though training courses can be freely available, the content and delivery is often poor and does not take into account the needs of the autistic people themselves. I'm happy to be corrected here though, as my experience here may be a year or so in the past and things may have improved.
At one point a rather distressed mother interrupted a presentation to ask for help for her daughter, who was refused support through these services as she "looked fine". In this day and age we should no longer be hearing any stories of this kind, yet so many of us have faced this dismissive and damaging attitude.

On to the highlights of the day now, which may not necessarily be in order of appearance.

Lunch. More specifically, flapjacks. Ashville College's catering department outdid themselves when it came to the flapjacks. The rest of the buffet lunch was excellent, with the added bonus of pudding being available at the same time as the sandwiches (I am easily pleased!).

A talk by Rob Knox, from Rob Knox Associates, with many years of experience through education, spoke about various aspects of autism, he had some interesting views which were good to hear.

A local autistic committee member spoke about their experience of bullying in school, this was obviously an emotional subject to talk about, and so much of what they said resonated, both the bullying itself and the attitudes from those who should be dealing with it. Unfortunately, it highlighted the fact that in the last few decades, things really haven't changed in this respect. I think bullying is something I will tackle in a blog post at some point, but I suspect it will be a difficult one to write.

Specialist speech and language therapist Gina Davies delivered an outstanding speech about her work with autistic children and young people. It's so good to hear from people who have such a good understanding of autism. I highly recommend a Google to see the work she is doing, and if you do get the chance to hear her speak you won't be disappointed.
She did mention how polite parents tended to be, in the face of professionals offering tried-and-failed methods, which was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me in realising that my bluntness and refusal to try strategies that had already proved useless probably annoyed the professionals who felt that they had all the answers. Maybe one day I will develop some diplomacy when faced with pros who think that a twenty minute observation session means they know exactly how to handle my child....

The day finished with a talk by Dean Beadle. He warned us that he would be positive, and he really was. He was a joy to listen to, and firmly knocked on the head the myth that autistic people don't have a sense of humour. We really need more autistic voices, to drown out the relentlessly negative and patronising NT Expert voices, who so often miss the point of what it is to be autistic.
I urge any of you to grab any opportunity to hear Dean Beadle speak, he was a breath of fresh air, and showed a much more realistic and living view of autism than the behavioural aspects and resulting management that are usually highlighted.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day and can't wait for the 11th annual conference. Hope one day I can speak at one (tiny hint if anyone from Harrogate NAS reads this - specialist subjects include masking children in school - the whys, and how to support them, plus the positives of adult diagnosis. Specialist subjects also include clouds and chickens, but these might not appeal!).

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