Mum Shardia and her family love exploring the great outdoors. Patrick III, the eldest of her two sons, “…is the most fun-loving, cuddly, innocent young person you could ever meet.” In 2019 Patrick was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum and is now attending a new school which has made huge improvements to his education and enjoyment of being in the classroom.
Patrick has always had a challenging time in educational settings, mainly due to him displaying behaviours of being autistic but not having a diagnosis until he was 6 years old. Shardia reflects “that milestones such as making friends, joining in with extra-curricular activities and general school achievements were difficult to say the least.” But things have improved dramatically for Patrick over the past 12 months. Shardia and Dad, Patrick Jnr, made the decision to take him out of private school and place him in a local state school. Since then, they have been involved in applying for an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) and have regular communication with the SENCO from the school. An EHCP is important as it identifies a child’s or young person’s special needs and sets out the support needed to meet those needs. With such structures now in place and the importance of communication recognised, the family now feel that Patrick is finally receiving the support he needs.
The desire to share experiences and give a voice to parents, carers and those individuals with autism is clearly very important to Shardia and her family. From lived experience she explains how: “it’s common that autistic children and young people are spoken for and often about”. A change she would like to see from policy makers and those in the education sector is to involve individuals and families in discussions and decisions from the beginning. It is clear that Shardia is passionate that, “the people who the changes will impact, should be and deserve to be part of the discussion and decisions being made.”
The pandemic has caused stress and anxiety for many families across the UK and beyond, but there has also been the opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect. Having more family time with Patrick, has meant Shardia and Patrick Jnr have been able to educate themselves on their son’s autistic behaviours. “Now Patrick has benefited from our new knowledge and understanding of his needs, we have been able to design and create a space in our house and his bedroom that's more appropriate for him, and I really do hope that he's feeling or noticing the difference.” When life resumes to a normality we are all more familiar with, Shardia is looking forward to sharing her knowledge and understanding of Patricks needs with her friends and family so they too can share with this support.
Shardia believes that research into autism education is really important to better support children and their families, such as that from the Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER). Shardia took part in a recent study that surveyed 300 parents, who have children on the autism spectrum, about their experiences during lockdown. From this work ACER went on to help inform teachers and make recommendations for practice. Taking part in this survey with ACER “has provided my family with a platform to share experiences with other parents that are similar but also who have their differences; whether that is single parent families or those with racial or cultural differences.” Shardia hopes that this shared experience can continue to be captured for years to come due to the unknown impact the pandemic will have on families.
A shared desire for many families with a child or young person on the autistic spectrum is to continue to eliminate the stereotypes around autism. Shardia reflects on how: “We do have challenges with Patrick’s autism but we are a happy and healthy family and I want to be a part of the narrative that breaks down some of the barriers and stigmas within my community and within other cultural communities.”