Family’s autism postcards used to help others understand condition
AN AUTISIC woman’s postcards describing her feelings growing up with the condition have been used to create a training pack to help families and professionals understand autism.
Dan Redfearn, lecturer in nursing and social work at Salford University, has worked closely with Helen Larder, and her daughter Hayden, who was diagnosed with autism as a 16-year-old, to create the pack.
Helen encouraged her daughter, now aged 25, to draw and tell stories about her life when she was growing up, to help her understand the complicated emotions she was experiencing because of the condition.
Helen later incorporated Hayden’s cartoon characters into a set of ‘postcards’ which they produced together, and which Hayden wrote messages for. The mother showed these to medical and educational professionals to help them understand what Hayden was going through.
The images feature drawings of scenes such as a young person telling an adult that they can’t cope with friends coming to visit, and the same young person with thought bubbles saying that things are ‘too loud, too bright, too confusing’.
The drawings and postcard messages have now been used as part of a training resource entitled, ‘Understanding Autism: A training pack for support staff and professionals based on Postcards from Aspie World, which was commissioned by Pavilion and is being published later this month.
The pack is aimed at care providers as well as staff working in organisations such as schools and charities, and people attending training sessions will be encouraged to discuss some of the issues raised on the postcards using interactive exercises.
A separate book, including a boxed set of the postcards, is aimed at helping families adjust after a child has been diagnosed with autism.
Holly Turton, a trainee clinical psychologist from Manchester University, also worked on developing the training package.
Dan, who previously worked with Hayden when he was a nurse specialising in autism, said: “When I originally worked with Hayden years ago she showed me the postcards, and I said straight away that she needed to do something with them, so it’s been really good to work with her and her mother again.
“A lot of the problems that Hayden experienced growing up – as is often the case with people who have autism – were simply misunderstandings. For example, if a teacher tells a pupil to look at them, they believe that the child isn’t listening if they aren’t doing so. But for autistic pupils, looking at people in this situation can be distracting. Teachers may not understand this and label the pupil ‘difficult’.
“Helping people understand that difference is really important, and was at the heart of what I was setting out to achieve when I worked on this training pack. There is a real absence of good quality training enabling staff to effectively support people with autism, and I’m hoping this will fill that void and provide a useful tool.”
Helen said: “It’s surprising how much misunderstanding there still is around autism, and a lot of young people growing up with the condition really suffer as a result of that. Dan has done an amazing job of producing this training package, based on the idea that people can learn effectively from looking directly at the experiences of a real person.
“We hope this training resource will make a difference by helping staff in all kinds of organisations think about their working practices, so autistic people have better opportunities. Hayden and I are both proud we played a role in developing this pack.”