Dr Rona Tutt OBE summarises the six key themes to take forward, as identified by speakers and the audience at this landmark conference, organised by NAHT.
On Friday 27 January 2017, an unusual and inspiring conference took place in the Connaught Rooms, London. This was Girls on the Autism Spectrum – the Big Shout!
The conference grew out of the work of the Autism in Girls Forum, which, along with the National Forum for Neuroscience and Special Education (NFNSE), has found a home with the NAHT.
The unique character of the conference was in the make up of the speakers and the 300 strong audience, who were drawn from across education, health and social care, along with parents and carers, and, crucially, girls and young women who are on the spectrum. The purpose of the event was to start a ‘Call for Action’ by identifying the topics that need to be taken forward. As it turned out, these fell under the following six themes:
• Training for professionals and families to recognise and refer girls with suspected autism or related conditions
• Revising existing diagnostic tools so that they improve the earlier identification of girls on the spectrum
• Having a more joined up approach to screening, diagnosis and post-diagnosis support, so that there is a clear and consistent pathway all the way through.
2. Education and Training
• Training for educational professionals and families in supporting girls with autism
• Creating closer working between the services, as well as between professionals and families
• Recognising all-round achievement and not just academic progress
3. Parents and Carers
• Ensuring that post-diagnostic guidance is available for families, including the young people themselves
• Putting in place specific advice for families in parenting girls who have autism
• Making sure that the expertise of families and young people with autism is valued.
4. Mental Health and Co-existing Conditions
• Training for professionals and parents in mental health issues that may co-exist with autism in girls
• Training for professionals in looking beyond the presentation of mental health issues, so that autism is not overlooked as an underlying cause
• Improving the awareness of other co-occurring conditions that are not uncommon in girls who have autism.
• Rising awareness among employers about the strengths of autistic girls
• Providing greater opportunities for supported employment and job coaching
• Using other women on the spectrum to act as role models for what autistic girls can achieve.
Linking neuroscientists with school-based research to learn about the reality of autistic girls’ educational experience and how outcomes might be improved
• Looking at the impact of exclusions and self-exclusion / school refusal
• Investigating the links between autism and secondary mental health issues (e.g. eating disorders, self harm etc.).
Although there is not the space for a full synopsis of the day, to provide a flavour of what took place, talks were given by:
- Speakers of all ages who are on the autism spectrum, providing insights we would not otherwise glean
- Researchers explaining the latest findings and where the gaps lie in our knowledge about autism in girls
- Teachers and other professionals explaining the strategies they have found helpful
- Parents demonstrating the positive contribution that can come from girls and young women who view the world differently.
This meant that it was a very packed day. One of the measures of its success was in the number of those present who spent time writing down what they felt needed to happen next. From these thoughts emerged the themes listed previously. ‘The Big Shout’ must be heard, so that the lives of these girls are not wasted, but can be led to the full, not only for their benefit, but to enrich the lives of all of us.
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Page Published: 06/02/2017