The Learners’ Single Point of Access (L-SPA) offers help and support to children and young people within Surrey who have a problem, concern or needs about their development or progress. L-SPA offers help to anyone to the age of 25.
What the L-SPA does
L-SPA assures they will give children and young people the right support or intervention at the right time so they can help you meet your learning developmental milestones. The L-SPA provides you access to information and advice from a team of professionals from education, health and social care; aiming to answer your call within 20 seconds. The L-SPA will not replace any existing referrals to services for children. If you have existing support or help from another service, the L-SPA will support and help alongside.
How to access the L-SPA
The L-SPA is a phone service that runs from 9am to 5am, Monday to Sunday all year round except on bank holidays. You can call the L-SPA on 0300 200 1015. Alternatively, you can go to their website and fill out a form as a parent, practitioner or as a child or young person. If you are not accessing any learning services other then L-SPA, the L-SPA can help you to get support from another service.
As young people with additional needs and disabilities, we would like more information on what study support is available in Surrey for all young people with additional needs and disabilities, so that we know what options are available to us when we make decisions about our education.
Following from your Action Card, we asked the Preparing For Adulthood Team at Surrey County Council what support colleges in Surrey offer. This is what we found out!
Nescot College offers a wide range of expert support, from specialised help with student finance to mentoring and professional counselling for personal, social or family problems.
All the services are free and available to anyone. To get this support you will be assessed at college after talking to your tutor.
When you join Nescot you can visit their website to apply for the support that applies to you. Or you can talk to your tutor or staff at Nescot and ask how to apply, or if they can help you apply.
For more information, visit their student services webpages:
Brooklands College offers help from staff such as, progression mentor, your tutor, the counsellor, a member of the safeguarding team. They can also give you ways to help yourself or they can signpost you to services that can offer help and support. When you join the Brooklands college you can visit their website and see how to apply for the support that applies for you. Or you can talk to you tutor or staff at Brooklands and ask how to apply or if they can help you apply.
For more information, check on Brookland’s webpages on student support:
East Surrey College
East Surrey College offers additional support that’s offered to students who have a learning difficulty or disability. If you have a statement of additional needs, a learning difficulty assessment or an EHCP, you will need to provide any of these to get support from the college. The college provide access to assistive technology for exams, dyslexia and dyscalculia and will provide or recommend strategies to enable you to make independent progress in learning. The college has specialist staff to support those with hearing or visual impairments, as well as speech and language needs. Students needing more support will often be allocated a specific Learning Support Assistant to work with them ensuring consistency throughout the college day. There is also an Autistic Spectrum Support Group every 2 weeks, where students can socialise and try out new activities.
For more information, check on East Surrey colleges webpages on support for students:
Farnborough College has dedicated additional learning support such as, learning support workers, specialist tutors and key workers. Staff at the college work to create a range of support programmes for specific learning difficulties including dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia. The support offer can provide 1-1 support, study and assignment workshops, exam access arrangements and assistive technology and equipment support. The college also helps with language and communication needs, whether its producing speech, understanding and using language or having specific communication difficulties.
For more information, check on Farnborough’s webpages on additional learning support:
SEND Local Offer
The SEND local offer aims to bring together useful information between education, health and social care within their website. You can find information, advice, guidance and a range of local service’s who provide children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
For more information, check on SEND Local Offer webpages on the support they offer:
Meltdown – a response to an overwhelming situation that includes signs of distress.
Shutdown – where a person may withdraw from the people and environment around them. They may need their own space and time to process.
I don’t like meltdowns because when I used to have really big, long and bad meltdowns I used to say a lot of mean things, tell lies, say horrible things to others and myself.
Meltdowns make me look like I am refusing to do something or am reluctant to do something when I’m not – I’m in a meltdown.
I used to run off and hide, but I don’t do that anymore unless it is for a fun activity where people aren’t going to get worried. I used to also climb up trees and bushes to hide from people when I was having a meltdown, or hide underneath something, but I don’t do this anymore. I now cover my face with my hands, people understand I’m not hiding to be rude, I just need some alone time.
I don’t like to make people worried.
I like to walk, jog or run-in safe areas when I am having a meltdown to feel safe – I still do this.
Recently I have been having less meltdowns than I used to, which are also smaller than they used to be. I have been having a lot of shutdowns recently.
I have had a lot of shutdowns in the evenings since I finished college for summer holidays. In the last 7 weeks I have had a shutdown almost everyday.
During the summer holidays I have been going to a lot of clubs, and I have been having a lot of 10 to 40 minutes shutdowns at the clubs that I have been attending in the mornings and the afternoons. Sometimes I feel sorry for the staff who try to help me, but I also worry that they may call someone over and make it an incident.
A lot of people ask me if I am okay when I am having a shutdown, but I am not always able to answer, especially when I am really anxious. There have been a lot of transitions lately that are really busy and loud, which have not helped my anxiety. Some mornings I am too anxious to go into clubs and the staff I have good relationships with have to help me enter the site.
Some days I cry a lot when I am really anxious. People might worry because I might not seem like myself and then ask me a lot of questions at once about how I am and how I have been. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to talk about these things; sometimes I’m not ready to talk about it. When this happens, they might get into my personal space. I worry if people who don’t get tested regularly for Covid-19, get into my personal space.
Sometimes the behaviours of other children and young people at clubs and activities can cause me to be really anxious. Especially bad or violent behaviour.
When I am tired, I find things harder to do and possibly more overwhelming. This can make me cry and I don’t always immediately know what it is that has led to the problem.
How I manage overwhelming situations
Some of the ways I notice that I am becoming overwhelmed is when:
There are loud noises
There is a difficult situation
I see someone breaking the law or doing something dangerous
I get too hot
I am stressed
Some of the ways I look after myself when I am overwhelmed:
We found sharing their self-care tips and tricks with each other really helpful, especially during Covid. ATLAS members have found that during the pandemic it has been even more important to think about how you are spending our time, as we’ve not been able to do our everyday ‘normal’ stuff, like socialising.
We hope that others may find our thoughts and discussions around maintaining your mental health and wellbeing will be helpful to others.
The Importance of Self-Care
It has and continues to be important that you keep yourself active (however YOU define active), your mind active, and do things that you enjoy whilst staying safe. This can include any hobbies that you have like reading, drawing, listening, making music, going out for a walk: anything at all that you think will help you.
It is also important to make sure that you are eating and drinking enough water every day as that has a massive benefit to improving your mental health and wellbeing.
Tips and Tricks
We’re all different for what we find helpful. Here are some of the activities ATLAS members use for self-care:
Keep in touch with your friends because you don’t do much [during a pandemic].
Call someone everyday – video call not just phone call or texting. Because if I don’t socialise for a while, I will forget how to socialise.
Meditation and listening to music.
Click and collect libraries.
Making time for your hobbies
Weighted blankets help a lot. Weight toys, weighted lap pad and weighted jacket.
Baths and Showering.
I have been trying to explore working with my senses. A lot of time with myself, music really helps because it is hard not hearing people’s voices. Without sound I will get tinnitus or hallucinate.
White noises are also really good, especially with Autism I find big changes in volume different, so having noise all the time helps when people call me.
Keeping bin by the bed.
Using a bed desk if you can’t get out of bed so you are changing your work environment and home environment.
I try and make sure I have a main event every day. I think it is an ADHD thing – I can’t do something when I am waiting for something planned.
ATLAS members find that routines help to structure out our day-to-day life and activities. Here are some of the areas we use routines to help us with:
Eat healthy meals.
Have a timetable.
Have a sleep routine.
Similar sleep / wake up times.
Having alarms / reminders.
Put reminders on phone.
Write in a diary.
Try and have different places in the house for different activities.
Everyday, do something that you enjoy.
Have structure in school / work.
Have a time in the day where you step away from screens.
Make exercise fun – put on music and dance or play a game that includes exercise like a virtual reality game (e.g. Wii Fit).
Listen to music.
We find that routines are really helpful; they give us the information on what we want or need to be doing and when, as well as helping us to manage our time.
Importantly, routines help us to be more independent, reduce anxiety, and some of us have found it has also helped us build more confidence in ourselves!
Self-Care During Self-Care!
When developing routines, we feel it is important that you:
Don’t pressure yourself.
Take little breaks.
Tell people close to you what you need, or how you feel.
Do you have any tips and tricks you would like to share? Please comment below!
This film is about non-verbal autism and is based on the book The Reason I Jump written by Naoki Higashida when he was 13 years old. Naoki is now 28 years old and will be 29 in exactly 28 days. Naoki is a non-verbal autistic person from Japan. The book was published in Japan in 2007. The English translation was published in 2013 by Keiko Yoshida and her husband, English author David Mitchell who have a son who is autistic and non-verbal. Keiko and David were very passionate about this book because they felt this is the only book which helped them to understand their son. Naoki’s book is invaluable to help understand severely autistic children and young people because it is the only book about autism written by an someone who is autistic and non-verbal.
This film is part documentary, part dramatisation and has an actor playing Naoki Higashida when he was a boy. The film shows Naoki walking along the beach and countryside explaining lots of feelings, emotions and sensory input from his surroundings. While this is being shown there is a narrator speaking the words of Naoki from his book, where he expresses his thoughts and feelings around his autism and non-verbal autism in general. Naoki’s account being read out in the film is incredibly powerful, extremely insightful and very thought-provoking. In my opinion the most powerful quote of Noaki’s is, “To live my life as a human being there is nothing more important than being able to express myself”.
The idea of turning the book in to a film came from the parents of a teenager I’ll mention later on. His parents Stevie Lee and Jeremy Dear, were the producers of the film. They had read the book and it had transformed their understanding of their son. Without the parents of servery autistic children and adults this film would of not been made. The documentary part shows non-verbal autistic people from all over the world. From England they film Joss Dear a teenager who is severely autistic and can speak but speaks mainly by one word responses or repeating worlds from a long time ago that people have said, mainly his parents. Joss is very sensory, he enjoys blowing bubbles, bouncing on his trampoline and swinging very high on a swing. Joss is unable to explain why he does what he does and like what he likes. He just knows what he likes and people can see he likes it because he is showing experiences of pure joy. One of the reasons that makes the film so immersive and fascinating, is when the film shows autistic people from around the world doing what they enjoy. The words from Naoki that are in his book were said by the voice of the book Jordan O’Donegan. Where Naoki’s insight is invaluable because he describes the reason autistic people do what they do. His words describe Joss perfectly. When he is jumping, Naoki’s words are voiced over, while the footage of Joss being shown is a very good way of showing what incredible insight Naoki has given Joss’ parents and everyone else.
I really enjoyed the film and it taught me a lot, even as an autistic young person myself, about non-verbal autism, because I am fully verbal and only know a few people who are non-verbal. The cinematography is very good, shows some stunning views around the world and captures all of the people videoed in the film exactly. I feel one of the most important parts for people to take away from the film is about Naoki and two autistic friends from America who are non-verbal. These three young people have non-verbal autism however they are all very articulate and all use the letter board to communicate. They all have a very high level of understanding of themselves and the world around them. This makes the powerful point that non-verbal autism is not talked about much and still very much misunderstood. It is still very much the belief, that non-verbal servery autistic people with have a limited understanding and severe learning difficulties, which is not always the case. As these three in individuals show very powerfully. Another part I really liked was when Joss was looking over a fence at a mental green box with lots of cables in. He wanted to climb in but his dad told him not to because of course it’s too dangerous to climb in. It is incredible that Joss can hear the green box, without seeing it, from quite a distance. Listening and finding the green boxes has become a fascination for Joss and he can sit with his head to one of them for a long time.
I would recommend anyone with an interest in autism or additional needs to watch this film. It is a very unique film which is very thought provoking to all that see it. I would give this film a 5 out of 5 star rating because the director Jerry Rothwell did exactly what he set out to do. “As a film maker”, he said, that making a film about Naoki’s book would “offer a great opportunity to use the full potential of cinema to evoke intense sensory worlds in which meaning is made through sounds, pictures and associations as well as words.” He said by creating this film, “My hope is that the reason I Jump can encourage an audience into thinking about autism from the inside, recognising other ways of seeing the world, both beautiful and disorientating.” He also said, “I hope the film takes audiences on a journey through different experiences of autism, leaving a strong sense of how the world needs to change to be more inclusive.”
As seeing the film myself, I would say that’s definitely what I got out of the film and I think many others will too. This film will probably send you on a roller coaster of emotions from felling happy, stunned, sad, surprised and cross. At times the film is funny, sad, enlightening, inspiring, powerful and most of all, gives you a small insight of what it can be like for people who are autistic and nonverbal.
Anxiety makes you more anxious and nervous. It is harder for you to talk about your feelings and emotions. Sometimes it is hard to talk about your thoughts and what you are thinking about.
When you’re anxious it is really hard to talk to people because you don’t know who to trust. With anxiety, I find it really hard to trust people.
Things that cause me anxiety
There are a lot of things that cause me anxiety. For example:
Meeting new people and seeing a new place.
Because hospitals and the emergency services are scary.
For example, police, ambulance, fire engine, flashing lights.
Loud noises, alarms, vehicles, fireworks, thunder, heavy rain, wind, screaming and shouting.
Professionals knowing about my life and personal information and not knowing who will be told & who they may tell.
Cancelling or changing appointments with little notice or no notice.
Different primary and secondary school.
too many changes happening at once.
Moving to college and having to make new friends.
Negative things on social media.
particularly about covid.
Covid in general because you can’t see people and places.
I can’t see what is happening around me.
I can’t see what people are doing.
Fights and arguments because you don’t know what’s happening.
Small tight spaces: I feel stuck and scared.
People that are hurt or sad.
Sad knowing that my friends have anxiety and bad mental health.
My friends seeing me struggling.
Not understanding the whole process.
Not meeting family members that I don’t know.
Scary times from the past: being threatened to be kidnapped as a kid.
You don’t know if they’re going to hurt you or not.
They can be hard to ignore.
Not understanding what my disabilities mean: Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Learning Difficulties, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Anxiety, Sensory Issues.
Because I have SPD it takes me more time to process and understand information.
My meltdowns and shut-downs.
Sometimes I am non-verbal.
There are many coping strategies you can use to help with anxiety. I prefer some strategies to others. Ones that I like are:
Hugs (: This is a big one!
Hugs are great because they’re very soothing and relaxing.
I like the feeling of touch; it calms me down quite quickly.
I mainly like hugs from White Lodge staff.
Fidget Toys. Ones that I like include:
When you stretch the bands, they help to relieve frustration.
They help relieve the anger inside my mouth.
Walking and yoga.
Walking is really calming, and yoga really soothes you and makes you want to go to sleep.
The fresh air makes you happy.
Talking to people who I trust.
For example, staff at White Lodge.
They’re nice to cuddle.
For example, from a roller coaster!
You can have a bath bomb and a candle in there, put some classical music on, it’s really nice!
Washing products that smell really nice also make you smell great and clean.
Colouring in between the lines makes you feel really relaxed.
Mixing ingredients, for example, is very calming.
My dog really helps me! And my fish!
Make-up or face paint
I find putting these on a really nice sensory experience.
It is also very creative and a good way to express yourself.
I have a chewing gum with hemp in it that really helps me.
Lozenges and calming sweets can also be good.
When I am in a shut-down, I find crying helps me feel better.
Going to a library.
It is quiet and peaceful. It is nice to go in.
Looking through the books, choosing one and then reading is a good way to distract yourself.
When I am in a bad mood, but not in a meltdown, I often ask to go to the library.
When you are anxious it can be hard to make decisions. So, it can also be difficult to use coping strategies when you are anxious because you don’t know which one to use and which one will help you the most. Sometimes when you are anxious you can also forget about the strategies!
Using coping strategies
I find it easier to use coping strategies when I have a meltdown when people tell me to use them. But when I have a shutdown, I find it difficult. When I need to use my coping strategies, I remember them by:
I have two: an outdoor and an indoor one.
My mum, or the people around me, remind me.
When I am having a shutdown I like it when people check-in with me and ask what they can do to help me. I find that helpful. It is helpful when people try and ask what is wrong. When I am having a shut-down I find people giving me hugs helpful, but please ask me permission before you do!
I would like it if the professionals that work me had a better understanding of shutdowns and what I need when it happens.
If emergency services have to work with me when I am anxious, having a meltdown or a shutdown, I would like them to:
Not talk over each other.
It’s hard to understand what they are all saying.
Not ask so many questions.
They try to rush you to answer.
To communicate using sign language (BSL/Makaton) or flash/single cards.
When I am in a shutdown I find it easier to use a different way of communicating.
Understand that they are not someone that I trust to share my personal feelings with.
I know that they are not all trained medical professionals, for example the police.
Use less force and be more gentle if they need to touch me.
Give me more warning if they need to touch me, for example use a countdown.
Recently in ATLAS, members were discussing their experiences with dentists and realised that many of the members had dental and/or oral health problems.
Members raised a Question Card for the User Voice and Participation Team staff to find out whether there was a connection between dental and oral health problems with additional needs and disabilities. If so, young people wanted to know what support there was for them and how to access it in Surrey!
The link between dental and oral health and learning disabilities
Good oral health is an important part in people’s general health and quality of life. There is evidence to show that people with additional needs and disabilities have poorer oral health and more problems in accessing dental services than people in the general population.
However, national, and international research, consistently shows that people with learning disabilities have:
higher levels of gum disease
greater gingival inflammation
higher numbers of missing teeth
increased rates of tooth lessness
higher plaque levels
greater unmet oral health needs
poorer access to dental services and less preventative dentistry
People with learning disabilities may often be unaware of dental problems and may be reliant on their carers/paid supporters for oral care and initiating dental visits. There may also be a need for additional help with their oral care and support to get good dental treatment because of difficulties with mental and physical health.
The website includes information on who could be entitled to free dental care and a list of useful links for young people and carers. You can also find information on your rights and the law around accessibility.
ATLAS will be reviewing this information soon! We will update this blog with their response!
If you would like to join ATLAS, find out more on our ‘Get Involved!‘ page.
It is well noted through observation and research that there is more gender diversity in neurodiverse people than neurotypical people. As gender and sexuality are social constructs, there is speculation that this relationship is due to the fact that being neurodiverse means you are less likely to adhere to cultural and social norms.
You may be wondering what all these terms mean:
Neurodiverse/Neurodiversity/Neurodivergent – variation in in the human brain. This term is used by people to express that their brains are wired differently due to having neurological conditions and/or disorders: ADHD Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, etc.
Neurotypical – this is a relatively new term that is used to describe people whose brain develops and functions in ways that are considered ‘normal’. It is the opposite of Neurodivergent.
Gender Diversity – is a measure of how much people’s gender differs from cultural or social norms due to their sex at birth.
Sexuality – is all about how someone identifies themselves in relation to the gender or genders that they are attracted to.
Social Construct – something that only exists as a result of humans agreeing that it exists.
Cultural and Social Norms – rules or expectations based on the shared beliefs of different groups of people that guide behaviour and thoughts.
Talking about experiences and difficulties of the LGBT+ community is extremely important to ATLAS members. This is not only because ATLAS want to be strong allies and raise the voices of minorities, but because a number of members are also part of the LGBT+ community themselves.
Autism and Gender
ATLAS members reflected on how they weren’t told about the relationship between Autism and gender diversity when they were diagnosed:
How masking impacts self-discovery
Masking is a survival technique that is used by people with Autism to hide behaviours that may not be accepted by the people around them. This is often achieved by learning to display neurotypical behaviours. Ultimately, masking results in having to hide the true self to be protected from negative consequences.
ATLAS members raised that as a result of masking, it can be difficult to work out who they are:
As a result some members felt unable identify with labels, which could help them find support from peers and communities:
Comphet stands for compulsory heterosexuality. This is where heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by society.
ATLAS members and staff loved this idea: members and staff are now invited to put their pronouns in their Zoom names if they want to!
Whilst family relationships can be extremely important for the wellbeing of children, young people and young adults, unfortunately stigma can lead to bullying, rejection and internalised stigma.
Neurodiverse people, people with Autism, people with disabilities are just as different and individual as neurotypical people, people without an additional need or disability. Talk to us, listen to our experiences and ideas: we are experts in our perspective and have a lot to say!
To make sure that the voices of children, young people and young adults with additional needs and disabilities in the LGBT+ community are heard ATLAS will be starting drop-in sessions to provide a safe space and a platform for voices to be raised.
At the age of 22 my life changed. I got what most would describe as a label, but I don’t.
If I did describe it as a label, I wear mine with pride.
I dislike the term ‘disability’ as it makes me feel like I’m lacking something or I’m less able than a ‘normal’ functioning person, so I call them my difficulties and additional needs. Because with hard work, help and support they can be over-come, and everyone is different any way.
I have Autism and I’m never afraid to admit it as it makes me who I am, so does my difficult past. No one should ever make you feel less of a person because you see the world differently or have difficulties fitting in.
One of my favourite quotes is “Another person’s craziness is another person’s reality” said by my favourite directors Tim Burton. This is my favourite quote because it’s so true and relatable to me. I now have this quote tattooed on me as a constant reminder that it’s ok to be who you are, whether you fit in or not.
I have made it a passion of mine to help and teach others by sharing my past and present life experiences and I take pride in where I have come from and where I’m going. My Autism has its challenges that some people don’t understand but I’m always working hard to help change their views and the stigmatism around additional needs and disabilities.
Over the years I have seen more acceptance of Autism and the challenges we face but there still is a lot of misunderstanding and judgement, its something I’m willing to help change and I will always challenge things as there is always more to be done.
Michael Fred Phelps is famous throughout the world for his legendary abilities whilst swimming. Phelps is, by far, the most successful Olympian of all time with 28 Olympic medals of which 23 are Gold. Phelps also has several world records relating to swimming and is the fastest human being alive in the water. Phelps has achieved this success for many reasons, not least being his own hard work and dedication, as well as having a body especially suited for high water mobility. But another factor that may have allowed Phelps to reach such success, much to the surprise of many, may be his ADHD. Phelps was diagnosed with the condition when he was a child, and some believe that this diagnosis played a role in making him such a world class athlete. In examining how ADHD has affected Phelps, we may learn to see Disability in a rather different light.
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition that causes many behaviours that are unusual in the rest of the population. Commonly observed behaviours include restlessness, short attention span, and difficulty focusing. Many people consider ADHD to be purely negative, but many people with the condition themselves see it quite differently. For instance, ADDA, an self-advocacy group run by people with the condition, argue that ADHD is worthy of being celebrated. Whilst living with ADHD may present challenges, ADDA argues that the condition can in fact have its advantages and should be better thought of as simply a different way of having a mind. This might sound strange at first, but in Michael Phelps there may be an incredible example of this idea in action.
Historically, ADHD was understood as an inability to focus but more modern research suggests that it may in fact be a lack of control on what the brain focuses on. This is why ADHD people often exhibit a trait called ‘Hyperfocus’, where they focus intensely and singly on one thing, often for hours at a time. The theory goes that ADHD people often have a far stronger ability to focus than so called ‘Neurotypicals’ (those without ADHD) do. The problems come when an ADHD person has to focus on one thing when around them are ten or twenty distractions to drag their attention from. Most people have the ability to forcefully draw themselves back to the object of their focus and resist distractions, but without this many ADHD people struggle to stick to one thing long enough to make meaningful progress. With that said, picture child Michael Phelps in a swimming pool. Whilst in a classroom he might struggle to sit and do his work because of all the distractions, in the pool, with nothing to focus on but the water, his mind can intensely focus for hours on end. This allows Phelps to practice far longer and maintain focus far longer than his neurotypical coevals. Becoming a world star athlete requires spending many hours of each day practicing, but it also requires being able to remain attentive to technique even after hours of practice. Its possible that it is because and not in spite of, Phelps’ Disability that he has been able to take on the entire world in his chosen sport, and definitively triumph.
Michael Phelps Video: ADHD and What I would tell my Younger Self
Video Description: Michael Phelps talks to the camera about what he would tell his younger self and what it was like growing up with ADHD. Video has closed captions.
Chris was born in Southampton in 1961. His big interest in wildlife seemed to form before he was even able to speak. His parents say that he liked to crawl across their lawn looking for ladybirds and fish for tadpoles and mosquito larvae in an old baby’s bath set in the corner of the garden.
When he discovered a song thrushes’ nest just before his 12th birthday his interest in birds first began to grow. The Observer’s book of Birds Eggs became his Bible and Chris became a young egg thief. In 1974 he met a teacher at his school, John Buckley, who immediately redirected young Chris’ interest in egg collecting towards scientific examination instead.
Chris found nests, counted eggs and chicks and made maps of all their locations and within a couple of years he started his first proper scientific study – The Population and Breeding Density of Kestrels in the Lower Itchen Valley. This was written up in his last year at secondary school and he won the Prince Philip Zoology Prize a couple of years later. A bright young scientist and nerd in training he studied Kestrels, Shrews and Badgers in his teens and undergraduate days at the Zoology department of Southampton University.
As a young adult and postgraduate, he began taking still photographs and trained as a wildlife film cameraman. The photography continues with exhibitions and invitations to judge prestigious competitions, but the camerawork gave way to presenting. Chris began with the award winning ’Really Wild Show’ in 1986 and has been working ever since.
In his late 30s Chris suffered with Meniere’s disease which is a disorder of the inner ear that is described as having episodes of feeling like the world is spinning, ringing in the ears and hearing loss. In 2003, at the age of 42, he began seeing a therapist after the death of his dog. As his work with the therapist concluded in 2005, Packham was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, aged 44.
On 17 October 2017 Chris Packham released a documentary on BBC 2 about his life growing up and his Asperger’s, this program is called Asperger’s and me and can still be watched on BBC iPlayer. After receiving so many responses to the program he replied back to his fans and the messages he received with a letter that can be found and read on his website https://www.chrispackham.co.uk/news/aspergers-and-me-thank-you
Spina Bifida is a birth defect of the spinal cord; this is what Aaron has and is why he is on a wheelchair and has very limited use of his legs.
Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham has never let being on a wheelchair limit what he wants to do. When he was a small boy, he did anything anyone else his age could do, he just had to figure out how to make it work for him.
When he first ever received his first walker, he was off and running. Following on from the walker came crutches, which he got the hang of quickly. He would put on a Superman cape and blast down the hall on crutches believing, as any other 4-year-old, that he could fly. At age 8 Aaron go his first wheelchair which change his life for the better and opened new adventures for Aaron.
The age of 8 was when Aaron started riding at skateparks. One of his older brothers Brian is a BMXer. Before Aaron started having a go, he had been going to the park with Brian and their dad for weeks, but Aaron would just watch. Like any other child Aaron found the first time scary and he fell hard, but he was never one to give up just because it wasn’t easy. So, he tried again and from then on, he was hooked.
Aaron wants to change the world’s view of people on wheelchairs and to help everyone see their own challenges in a new way. You do not have to be on a wheelchair or handicapped to be inspired by what he is able to do and has achieved.
Over the years, Aaron has challenged himself to discover even more difficult stunts. In 2005, he achieved a mid-air 180-degree turn. On July 13th, 2006, he landed the first wheelchair backflip. Four years later August 26, 2010 he landed the first ever double backflip. As if this isn’t enough, on February 9th, 2011, he landed his very first front flip in New Zealand, and on August 25, 2012, he stunned Brazilians by jumping and successfully landing a 50-ft gap off the Mega Ramp in his chair. He is a 4-time winner of the Wheelchair Motocross (WCMX) World Championships and has also performed the first Wheelchair Flair/backflip 180, which he posted online.
After posting that first ever backflip on the Internet, life has changed for Aaron; he has travelled globally, both performing and speaking. He has attended summer camps for disabled children as a coach/mentor, and he has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and sports television. Aaron enjoys showing young kids with disabilities that a wheelchair can be a tool, not a restriction. He loves helping younger children learn how to handle their chairs in new and different ways and teaching them a trick or two. Someday he hopes to design and build the most wicked chair in the world.
Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham – The Story
A youtube video documentary about Aaron’s life and rise to fame. There are a sequence of clips of Aaron talking to the camera, learning and landing a number of different wheel chair stunts, attending movie premiere’s and enjoying his life.
“I wanna be be cool! I wanna be cool!” A few people can be heard cheering and then the sound of the wheelchair crashing into the ramp. “Dude I’m alive”, people cheer. More crashing sounds.
“I’m Aaron Fotheringham, most people call me Wheelz. I was born with Spina Bifida. The doctors didn’t think I’d really be independent at all or be able to sit up or do anything on my own: need to be assisted my whole life.
“But I didn’t let that stop me from keeping up. When all my friends would be riding their bikes around, I would hop on my wheelchair and chase them all around the streets.”
“Since those days my life has changed so much. Somehow I have been able to travel the world from country to country. I’ve been able to meet my idols and people who inspire me, perform in live shows in front of thousands of people and basically go further than I ever could have dreamed, all because of my wheelchair”. People cheering.
“Um, ok, well I was adopted when I was born to an awesome family in Los Vegas. They’re not my biological parents, but pretty much they’re everything, you know, they took care of me since birth and given me everything I have. Had to be a big trial on them and a big risk ’cause adopting a kid with Spina Bifida is, you know, like buying a car that’s got a lot of problems, a lot of work. Just also having to go in, either having a kidney problem or problem with my spine.”
“Well when I first started going to school, and like, they would always ask if I wanted to be put into adaptive PE with other kids on wheelchairs and I was always against that, because I though well I’m just like every other kid, I’m just on a wheelchair. So I would always fight and make them put me in regular PE. The coaches were always pumped because I would always be there and just want to do whatever the other kids were doing. So I think that was an important part was just having, you know, no one treat me any different. And my parents would always, if I would ask for help or something, they would say: your legs aren’t in pain at all, you can do it yourself. So they would just treat me like they would treat any of my other brothers.”
“You know, I think your disability is mostly in your head. You’re only as disabled as you feel. Just always having fun with it and never seeing it as a true disability. Like I don’t wake up in the morning and think: oh crap I’ve got to ride a wheelchair today. It’s just, like you get up and put your shoes on, I’m hopping onto an awesome wheelchair.”
“It’s pretty sweet to be able to help people look at their wheelchair as something just besides a medical device and it can actually be something really fun. Like, honestly there’s just wheels stuck to my butt, how can that not be fun?”
“We’re just here at one of the nitro circuit premiere’s getting ready to see the movie for the first time. Never been on the red carpet before, I feel like I should wipe my wheels before I got on the red carpet.”
“Wheelz is fun, he’s really cool. He’s got the most dry sense of humour you could ever imagine. First time I saw him, he hit the ground and he’s laying there like: I’ll never walk again! and I was like so, I didn’t know whether to laugh, I didn’t know. He’s just always being awesome, I can’t be awesome all the time, I can’t even walk but that’s kinda what we got in common so we’re good.”
Background music and cheering.
“Not too long ago I went to my first x games and I’d watch Travis and I saw him up close for the first time and I was star struck. And I waved at him and he waved back at me. Saw Travis’s double back flip and I was like I wanna do a double back. And then a couple of years later they call me up and I’m doing shows with them and then I’m landing a double back flip. It’s just, you know, it’s crazy, I’m scarred to dream too insane because everything seems to be coming true.”
“Those are always the best moments of my life.”
Dude, my teeth are missing again! You lost your teeth? Again! I had so much fun knocking my teeth out the first time that I can’t help it!.
Did you know that Blind people sometimes need subtitles on videos?
Strange and nonsensical as it may seem, like a ‘how to speak French’ book being translated into French, this is a very real and very necessary accessibility requirement. This is because Blind users who watch online videos need any written words on screen, such as title cards or diagrams, to be transcribed so that their screen readers can read them as a transcript. Once explained this seems pretty clear, but why would a sighted person ever guess that this was a requirement? Not knowing this, someone writing subtitles might assume that just because the text was already on screen there is no need to write it out again in the subtitles. This is one of the many challenges to overcome when making online spaces accessible: not all accessibility requirements make sense to an able-bodied reader on first blush.
Another example is tables. If a table is laid out with labelled columns and labelled rows, the top corner of a table is often left blank. However, this is also a problem because often a screenreader reads across the rows one at a time, and the Blind person is creating a mental picture of where the different pieces go. If there is a section left blank, it can cause the columns to become out of step with the rows making the entire table impossible for the Blind person to properly parse. The solution to this is to mark the blank space with some alt text that the sighted user never needs to see but which allows a screen reader user to understand how the columns and rows fit together. Once again, a relatively simple fix that nevertheless may not have seemed necessary to many sighted people.
There are many other such examples, of things that may be vitally important for some Disabled users but are unfortunately often completely mystifying for able bodied content producers to understand. To face this problem, the key weapons in our arsenal have to be curiosity and open mindedness. Being curious about the reasons behind accessibility guidelines can help us gain a greater understanding of them. Meanwhile, being open minded to new information, even if it may seem strange or nonsensical to us at first, can allow us to avoid the pitfalls that can keep our online spaces from being accessible to all.
You may have heard of Sia’s new movie, Music, which was criticised before release for casting a non-autistic actor as a mostly non-verbal, autistic main character.
In the midst of Sia lashing out at criticism on social media, ATLAS members talked about how the casting of Music and the release trailer made them feel.
Many of the young people were disappointed that a potential opportunity for representation of girls with autism was overwritten by ableism:
Other young people were torn, because they felt that additional needs and disabilities have been successfully portrayed by actors without additional needs and disabilities elsewhere:
Overall, ATLAS members did not feel that the casting of ‘Music’ was positive.
The portrayal of autism in the media
Sadly, this film does not stand in isolation. The majority of ATLAS members reported that they felt the portrayal of autism in the media was either ‘not very good’ or ‘really terrible’.
There were mixed views around having non-speaking autistic characters in films, however there was a largely positive response to having female characters with autism.
Film is a powerful medium. When used correctly, it can empower and educate people. When somebody sees a film focused on autism, that may be their first exposure to the idea of autism or to an autistic person. This provides an opportunity for people to talk about and approach autism in better ways. Unfortunately, if the film misrepresents people with autism, then the ideas taken from a film could lead to autistic people being viewed and treated in negative ways.
two people with the same condition can have completely different experiences of it
the level of disability someone might experience can vary from day to day.
When people don’t understand the nature of fluidity in disability, it leads to stereotyping and contributes to how disabling society is. People with additional needs and disabilities are actively excluded based on assumptions and passively through it being ignored.
The most important thing to do is listen.
You don’t need to understand how an additional need or disability affects someone to accept it. To believe the individual. To accommodate.
I’m going to crush you with my love
Perhaps one of the most dangerous misunderstandings the film portrays is the use of prone restraint. Restraint should only be used if there is an immediate danger to that individual or others. When that danger has passed, restraint should stop.
ATLAS recently talked about the use of restraint in schools for managing the behaviour of young people with additional needs and disabilities:
Participation, participation, participation
The film Music being released at the same time as ATLAS is starting to look towards Autism Awareness Week (29th March to 4th April 2021) highlights to me the sheer importance of participation and listening to the voices of people who are experts in their own experience!
How different these events could have been if the voices shared around the release trailer of Music had been properly listened to and acted upon. How different the representation of minorities, vulnerable groups, discriminated groups, those the industry continuously promote stereotypes about could be.
Film can reflect society, but it can also heavily influence it and bring about positive change.
ATLAS members have some advice for anyone reading this who wishes to portray characters with additional needs and disabilities:
Written by Sabrina Peters, Additional Needs and Disabilities Participation Officer and edited by Rowan Foster, ATLAS member and Bank worker for the User Voice and Participation Team.
Harry Potter, the famous young wizarding student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry took the world by storm and continues to be an important part of many people’s childhoods and lives. Some trivia for you:
Did you know that the actor who plays Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, has Dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia is a developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) that impacts the way the brain processes information, resulting in movement and co-ordination difficulties. A person’s organisation, memory, concentration and speech can also be affected. Up to 10% of the population are thought to have Dyspraxia, despite this, it is a relatively unknown condition.
From a young age, Daniel knew he struggled with certain things in life and had difficulties with school and his self esteem. As a result, his mother enrolled him in acting classes and from there his dream to be an actor was born.
At the age of nine, he made his first big break in the BBC’s David Copperfield, followed by a role in The Tailor of Panama. Then between 2001 and 2011 he captured the imagination of children, young people and adults across the globe with his portrayal of Harry Potter.
Daniel Radcliffe uses his fame to raise awareness of Dyspraxia, how it impacts individuals, and tackles the stigma that having an illness or disability means you cannot achieve your dreams.
It has been difficult for Daniel to shake off his portrayal of Harry Potter, the boy who lived, when looking for other roles as an actor. However, he has gone on to win numerous awards. He doesn’t act for the money, fame, or to be the best, he is living his dream.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience the world differently. They have different strengths and weakness and they may behave differently to the people around them. Everyone with ASD is different!
My mum and me were receiving support from White Lodge because I was finding it very hard to communicate and I was having ‘moments’. For me, moments are when I struggle with a lot of things and I get frustrated. The staff at White Lodge recommended that we see a doctor that they knew, who diagnosed me with ASD when I was 3 and half years old, which was very helpful.
Girls with ASD are underdiagnosed because they don’t meet people’s expectations due to stereotypes. My mum did not anticipate my diagnosis with ASD.
My life has changed quite a bit since I was diagnosed. Obviously not everyone has ASD, I am aware that I am quite different to other people. In my experience there are both positive and negative impacts of having ASD.
I am different to other people
It would be boring if we were all the same!
I think about problems differently and come up with different solutions.
I express myself differently to others
Some people with ASD communicate differently. For example, some people can’t use their voice.
I speak three languages to help me communicate: spoken English, sign language (Makaton/British Sign Language), using feelings boards/bracelets/cards.
Due to my experiences in life and my participation in ATLAS, I am able to appreciate other people’s perspectives.
When I speak to people that I know well, I have a lot to share about my interests and experiences
I know a lot about sensory toys!
I find it hard to make eye-contact
People might not think I am talking to them or that I am talking to somebody else if I don’t make eye contact.
I find it hard to keep a conversation, for example to keep focus and keep on subject.
I find it hard to manage my feelings, emotions and thoughts.
Loud noises, crowds, small spaces, lock rooms, flashing lights and the dark are difficult for me to cope with.
Flashing lights can include discos lights and even emergency vehicles!
I am very sensitive to touch.
I don’t tend to like people touching me, it feels uncomfortable. I don’t always know if people are going to be gentle and nice when they touch me and that makes me anxious.
Transport can be difficult because I don’t like long journeys.
All the sounds and people can be overwhelming.
Sometimes people come too close when I am travelling.
It can be difficult to speak to people that I don’t know.
When you meet someone with additional needs, such as ASD, you shouldn’t make assumptions because you don’t know that person.
“Before I came to participation groups, I didn’t talk.”
“Like this [conversation] was a no go … and then I went to my first session and then like, you couldn’t stop me talking, because I realised I was allowed to speak and I was allowed to know things.”
“Professionals don’t know that we don’t know we’re allowed [to speak and know things]. They make us feel like we can’t have knowledge of ourselves, which is what we’re meant to have anyway!”
“That’s been my biggest part in this [participation], is knowing myself, instead of knowing what they want me to know. Without this, I wouldn’t have been able to spread my voice. I would not have a say in terms of what I struggle with.”
Recently ATLAS members have been discussing what new starters to the group might want to know before their first session!
In a discussion about what could be included in a new starter pack, the group decided it should include information about the impact of ATLAS: “The Big Picture”.
Together, members made a mind map to express what they thought “The Big Picture of ATLAS” was. Below, some of the young people agreed to share their lived experiences in relation to the impacts mentioned.
The mind map
The mind map reads:
Opens the discussion
Helping professionals understand the experience of the young people
Promoting the right of people with additional needs and disabilities
Making Surrey more accessible
Surprise professionals with our points of views
Helps young people be seen
Brought about massive change in services brought about us
Share our expertise on our additional needs and disabilities
Empower young people
Meet and speak with other people with additional needs and disabilities
Quotes from young people
When working with the UVP Team:
The impact of participation on professionals:
Young person with Autism at university:
If you would like to read some of the feedback and consultation work that member’s of ATLAS work on, you can find out more on our ‘Monthly News‘ page!
Please check out our ‘Get Involved‘ page if you are interested in joining ATLAS.
Dyslexia is an Additional Need and Disability (AN&D).
5% to 10% of the population have it. It is the most common specific learning difficulty. It is something that runs in families and is a lifelong disability. It is something you learn strategies to help you cope with, so people think you outgrow it, but you just learn to live with it.
Dyslexia is not just about muddling letters: it is when you struggle with spelling, confuse your letters (for example b and d), or may have difficulties reading, as you are not able to recognise sounds. Sometimes dyslexics come across as lazy or slow, as some struggle with following instructions.
Dyslexics find problem solving more easily than others – they think out of the box. Many dyslexics have high IQs and are incredibly clever people. A myth is that dyslexics see letters moving around when black print is on white paper. That is visual stress. Although a lot of people with dyslexia have it, you can have visual stress without dyslexia.
Coloured overlays are not a cure for dyslexia, they help people with visual stress.
How to learn spellings
Depending on how your brain works, there are various spelling strategies, I found. Rainbow writing works the best for me. You learn each syllable in a different colour and then put it to one word.
If you begin to remember spellings this way, try look, cover, write, check – you literally do as it says.
Staying on track with written work.
I find it hard to plan my work in my head and get it written down. I can talk all about a project, what I am going to do. However, when it comes to getting it on paper, I just can’t do it. A tool I have learnt is to ‘Mind map’ my ideas.
Start with the topic in the middle, then ideas coming off for each chapter and ideas off of each of those until I have the base details down, you can do each area in different colours if it helps. Then number them so you know what order to write it in.
General Day to Day Challenges
Because my brain has to work so hard, I can find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time and then when I get a break, I do tend to go a little crazy – just to unwind and relax.
My friends sometimes get angry with me, as I can take things very personally and then I get upset – it’s just how my brain works.
I’m not very organised, so I need help packing my school bag (amongst other things), otherwise I will forget things I need. Don’t give me a list of instructions, my brain can only cope with 2 instructions at a time, otherwise I will forget almost everything you have asked me to do – write it down, so I can do it and tick it off.
People used to call me stupid, thick, lazy or idiot – I now know that’s not true!
Things I Am Good At
I am a really good problem solver, I come up with solutions that many people wouldn’t have considered, I think out of the box – this is a skill that many businesses are looking for, so I am hopeful this will help me be successful when I am older.
Maths is an area that I do really well with, I think it’s my problem solving that helps me out.
Many people comment that I am kind and caring, I believe this is because, how I see the world and others, I know how I get treated, so ensure that I don’t treat people that way.
I have a higher than average IQ, many of the world’s most successful people are dyslexic – Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, our Health Minister – Matt Hancock, Tom Cruise and many more.
Before I found the SYAS team, I wouldn’t take part in a class assembly, however since I have been a member, it has boosted my confidence and I am more than happy to speak up and speak my mind, without worrying about how others see me.
The positives and negatives of Dyslexia
My brain works much harder than most people’s
I’m not lazy, I just need more time to process what you are asking
I take things really personally
You need to give my instructions in small steps
I think outside the box
I’m really good at maths
I’m a good problem solver
I have a higher than average IQ
I tend to do the right thing
Some of the world’s most successful people are Dyslexic
Thanks to ATLAS – I’m happy to do public speaking!