10 Autism and SEN friendly activities for this Autumn

Over at picturepath® we think it’s tremendous to see how rapidly Autism Hour is taking off. It’s a national campaign run by the National Autistic Society which encourages businesses to take simple steps for 60 minutes to make things more Autism friendly.

Autism Hour has got us thinking that there’s a lot of places that are Autism friendly all year round. We have been pulling together our best recommendations for this Autumn, from our personal experiences or recommendations from parents and carers. If you have any further recommendations that we could share then please don’t hesitate to let us know!

Here are our recommendations for places you might want to visit this Autumn:

1. The National Football Museum
Located at Urbis in Manchester, this is a wonderful, Autism friendly museum. Once a month they have been opening their doors an hour early on a Sunday just for people on the autistic spectrum. When we visited they also had many opportunities for free play on their interactive exhibits, such as penalty shootouts. There is also an Autism friendly guide which you can download from their website prior to your visit.
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2. Wheels For All
Wheels For All is a nationally recognised programme which allows children and adults with special needs to experience cycling. They have a large range of specially adapted cycles and the activities are great fun as well as physically and mentally stimulating. The Wheels for All leaders have the knowledge and confidence to work with adapted cycles, which allows participants to enjoy the many benefits of cycling. There are over 50 centres nationwide, and 8 in Greater Manchester. The session days and times vary by location, and you pay a donation to join in.
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3. Jump Nation Autism Friendly Session
The Autism friendly sessions at Jump Nation are a brilliant idea and run from 9am to 10am every 3rd Saturday of the month. A heads up, you do need to book in advance. At the Autism friendly sessions the venue is only filled to half capacity, parents and carers go free, siblings are welcome, the music is turned down and you get free juice and biscuits after the session. This activity gives carers and siblings a great place to meet other people who understand the challenges of Autism, as well as a safe place for your child to bounce. It’s brilliant not having to worry about what other people there think of your child’s behaviour as you are all in the same situation.

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4. Jump Space
Staying with trampoline places, there’s a lot of families who love Jump Space in Stockport. Jump Space is a specialist centre offering Rebound Therapy, Trampolining and Sensory play. They mainly cater for people with disabilities and their families (and they encourage siblings to take part as well). They provide a safe, fun, understanding and non-judgmental environment for disabled children and young people, many of whom, due to their impairments, are unable to access other forms of sports and activities. The centre is fully accessible with hoist equipment available for the trampolines, ball pool, sensory area and accessible toilet facility. Jump Space now has a team of seven staff, six being coaches who are trained to teach Rebound Therapy & Trampolining.

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5. Eureka!
This is a firm favourite of ours. It is an interactive children’s museum and educational charity based in Halifax, where “children play to learn and grown-ups learn to play”. It has hundreds of interactive, hands-on exhibits designed to inspire children aged 0 to 11. All essential carers of disabled visitors get free admission – just bring along a form of ID. Eureka also offers support for disabled children and their families: quite literally, an extra pair of hands, with a trained ‘enabler’ accompanying you during your visit. It also runs a range of events and clubs for children with disabilities, including one for children on the Autistic spectrum.
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6. The London Eye
The London Eye offers a special discounted rate to disabled guests booking through the disabled booking line. An accompanying carer will receive a free ticket for the same ‘flight’. Discounted rates vary for adults, children and the under-fives, so be sure to state the age of the person applying for the special rate. To book tickets, use the disabled booking on +44 (0)871 222 0188 or email accessiblebooking@londoneye.com.
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7. London Transport Museum
Staying in London, Freddie absolutely adored the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. There are old buses and trains, some of which you can get behind the wheel and ‘drive’, plus special exhibitions and space for children to explore. His favourite thing though was finding the 13 hole punch machines to punch holes in your entry ticket. Hours of fun running around the whole museum! It can get very busy during holidays – especially if the weather is poor – so for a quieter time try visiting 10am to 11am and then from 4pm to 6pm. Family learning workshops take place during holidays, including storytime and craft. Children are free up to the age of 16, and paying adults can use their ticket multiple times over a year.
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8. Cinemas
On those rainy days, what could be better than a trip to the cinema? Cineworld has started showing Autism friendly screenings where lights are left on, the volume is reduced and you can bring your own food. If you go to their website then you can find details of the screenings. Home in Manchester is also highly praised for its Autism friendly screenings too with a chill out room that you can go to if it all gets a bit overwhelming.
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9. Manchester Museums
Many museums offer great Autism friendly sessions. We’ve enjoyed going to the Manchester Museum. Activities take place before the Museum opens to the general public on the second Saturday morning of each month. A different gallery is open at each early opening. In October it is the Fossils Gallery where Stan the T-Rex lives. The Autism friendly sessions are for children and young people aged 5-16 with a parent or carer and siblings are welcome and the museum also has a quiet room available.
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10. Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo has been a member of Autism Together’s Champion scheme since 2015, meaning that 10% of their staff are fully trained in Autism awareness.. The award-winning zoo was one of the first organisations to be made a Champion, and has received great feedback regarding the adjustments and Autism friendly approaches that the staff there have used, with 240 staff receiving extra training to become Autism champions. Carers get in for free and they go out of their way to make it a great experience. Although pricey, the Christmas Lanterns is a great way to see the zoo in the dark, full of sparkle, animal-inspired illuminations and a sprinkling of snow!
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That’s a few of our favourites. What are yours? Please leave us a comment and if we get enough suggestions we’ll have to write a follow up article!

You might have seen some of our recent social media posts about a great event we attended in Stockport on Monday – The Working Together Conference (#CoPro19). As Gareth Morewood explained in his opening remarks, the objective of the CoPro19 event was to develop collaboration and cooperation between teachers and parents in order to develop solutions to complex situations.

The speakers were all informative, funny and moving. We heard so many great ideas and thoughts from the 19 different speakers that we wanted to share our (and other attendees) favourite bits.

One of the keynote speakers, Professor Andy McDonnell, focused on how to get children into low arousal states and improve behaviour. He shared a great quote: “When a person is drowning, that is not the best time to teach them how to swim” – no learning can happen when a child’s in distress. So true! How many times have we all tried to change behaviour when a child is hysterical or upset? Calm down first then talk about how to change behaviour.

Andy McDonnell (pictured below) also talked about how important it is to manage your own stress before you are able to manage others. This is especially true for teachers in his view.

In the first breakout sessions, Greg Loynes from Inscape House School spoke passionately about having more focus on what a child can do, not what they can’t do, and he made the observation that every behaviour from a child serves a function and to ask yourself why is the child behaving that way? Greg also stressed how it’s important to have open conversations with parents and share approaches that didn’t work.

Barney Angliss had asked on Twitter before the event: if a child isn’t on the SEN register, does quality of teaching improve? The majority of Barney’s respondents thought teaching is better “off register” due to lowered expectations of the child if they are on the SEN register. Barney also wondered if this was led by lowered expectations of what the teacher can achieve.

Many parents and carers get disheartened by the sheer number of meetings and as Barney said “more professionals being involved doesn’t necessarily improve outcomes. There is no point in having big meetings with lots of professionals. The only voice that needs to be heard is that of the child. If we really want co-production we need to have the voice of the child controlling events. That is rare.”

Are you ready to be shocked? Barney Angliss has read the new Ofsted inspections guidelines. It has 321 recommendations for changes based on research about teaching mainstream children. Zero recommendations for SEN children.

Elly Chapple (one of the organisers, pictured below) tweeted this during Andy McDonnell’s talk: “Andy discusses how forgiveness is powerful. If people could learn to forgive rather than exhibit angry responses (talking about us, those supporting or educating) we might change outcomes rather than have huge meetings about a CYP often people haven’t even met.” 

How much do you think is spent annually on TAs? The answer is between £5bn and £7bn (depending on how the work is classified). They often work with the most vulnerable children who will become the least employable and have the shortest life expectancy yet these teaching assistants have no clear training programme or career progression. Quite staggering!

For many of the attendees, one of the highlights was a talk by two young people with ADHD, Georgia and Bryn Travers. They told teachers to take the time to know your students but be real and genuine (if you claim to know Marvel, you’d better know all about it because they do!).

Bryn also talked about the labels he had given to him as a child: troublemaker, chaotic, disrespectful, loud, weird, time-waster. ‘I felt like an inconvenience’

Jo Billington (who was worried about being a boring academic but was anything but!): Young people with autism who’ve been accepted into mainstream schools as they’re academically able don’t achieve anything comparable to their peers. How can we change this? Jo also posted her favourite quote from Barney’s talk and we love it too: “I am a big fan of rebellion. Anyone involved in SEND should be rebelling.”

One of our favourite slides from the presentation is the one below from Rachael King, highlighting key areas in the equality act:

Rachael also shared a great quote: “If strategies don’t work, don’t try harder, try something different.”

Taneisha Mellow-Pascoe who is a SENCO and a mother of an autistic child gave great advice from her experiences: don’t be afraid to keep your children behind. Don’t follow the script if you need to do something different.

Liz Murray, who’s recently started her role as a SENCO at Priestnall school and is founder of Spotlight Education Support, talked about an “inclusion room” at her previous school in London. A massive contribution to the success of the room was taking the time to understand the different people who would use the room: pupils, teachers, TAs etc and consulting SEN experts.

Final thought from CoPro19 goes to Professor Andy McDonnell – “In Ireland they have a phrase and I’ve met a lot of these – ‘WIE’ – a Well Intentioned Eejit”.

I’m going to work hard to listen more and not be a WIE!

If you went to CoPro19, what did you think of the event? What things really resonated with you? Thank you to Gareth Morewood, Elly Chapple, Sherann Hillman and PiPS for putting on the event. As you can see there were a wide range of speakers and experiences and something for all the attendees. A day very well spent.