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Keynote speakers - SEND conference 2021

Professor Amanda Kirby Professor Francesca Happé

Professor Amanda Kirby started her career as a GP and changed career when her second child was diagnosed with dyspraxia at three years of age. Her experience and frustrations (at times) as a parent finding her way round the health and educational system led to her consequently starting up an interdisciplinary specialist centre for parents and children (later on adults) more than 25 years ago in order to be able to provide practical support.

Her family is very neurodiverse and this has provided her with a unique understanding, insight and a passion to raise awareness and champion best practices. She was till recently, a professor at the University of South Wales, and has lectured to more than 100,000 individuals worldwide, written over 100 research papers and become internationally recognized in the field of neurodiversity as both a clinician and researcher.

Her research has leads to ways to provide practical solutions that make real changes for families and clinicians. Her PhD (after she became a professor) was relating to the changes that go on in adolescence in emerging adulthood and she developed screening tools which are now used internationally.

Over the years she has written nine books for children, parents, the health and educational professionals and for those in the workplace and have been translated into different languages.

Amanda has been on government advisory board as well as advising UK and international charities in the field of neurodiversity. This includes being a patron of the Dyspraxia Association in New Zealand, Chair of Movement Matters UK and works with great UK charities including the Dyspraxia Foundation, British Dyslexia Association, North East Autism Society and the ADHD Foundation.

Ten years ago, she realised to reach and support more people effectively she needed to develop web based solutions with her colleague Dr Ian Smythe. Too many children and adult’s needs were missed, or being misunderstood and this was potentially costing them and society.

Amanda is CEO of Do-IT Solutions, a tech-for-good company. They have developed unique person-centred computer profiling tools and apps to support neurodiverse children and adults in a range of contexts including education, prisons and employment settings used nationally and internationally.

Her passion to make changes in society and increase the chances of showcasing talents in neurodiverse children and adults remains as strong as it was 30 years ago.

Francesca Happé is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and until recently Director of the MRC Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London.

Her enduring interest and study in autism has led to numerous research papers, books and publications aimed at academics, the professional community, students and the general public.

Professor Happé studied Experimental Psychology at Oxford, and did her PhD on autism at UCL/MRC Cognitive Development Unit, supervised by Professor Uta Frith.

A string of national and international institutions dedicated to the research and understanding of autism including the International Society for Autism Research, the National Autistic Society and the International Society for Autism Research have had the benefit of her leadership and advice over the years. In addition to her JCPP joint editorship she was joint editor the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders and Mind and Language

Her contribution to the scientific study of autism draws on experimental psychology, cognitive research studies, neuroimaging and genetics and the complex interplay between these exploratory methodologies. In a recent BBC 4 ‘The Life Scientific’ broadcast Professor Happé talks to Jim al-Khalili about her research into the abilities and assets of adults and children with autism. Her work has propelled the science of autism to new areas hitherto poorly understood; more people appear to have autism traits in the general population, women with autism are often overlooked, autism and mental illness deserve more attention, autism in old age has hardly been addressed.